WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
When James and Tony Charlie first arrived at Kuper Island Residential School in British Columbia, they were given identification numbers that would be stitched into their clothes and put on lists for chore duties.
“Sometimes it wasn’t even our names, it was just the number,” Tony said.
The brothers, who were born just 14 months apart, started attending the school in 1964 when Tony was 13 and James was 12. They’re now counted among the many children abused by Catholic clergy at residential schools across Canada.
“I have to live my life today with all those pains and all those memories, all those incidents, forever, every night, every day,” said Tony.
Kuper Island was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order that operated 48 of Canada’s residential schools.
Some referred to the isolated island — situated between Vancouver Island and the mainland west coast – as Canada’s Alcatraz.
Listen to CBC’s new podcast on Kuper Island, which includes documents and testimonies from survivors and witnesses detailing years of abuse against students.
9 sex offenders taking refuge in Ottawa
The notorious school, plus its white cross and bell tower were bulldozed in the early 1980s. Gone, too, is the name Kuper — reclaimed as Penelakut in 2010 — a local First Nations community to which the land belongs.
The journey for reconciliation is hardly over. In the effort to track down Glenn Doughty, the Oblate brother who abused young boys on Kuper Island, CBC News uncovered a retirement home in Ottawa where Catholic clergymen convicted of sex crimes are offered a place to live after their release from prison.
CBC has confirmed at least nine convicted sex offenders — men who abused children in residential schools, northern Indigenous communities, and various parishes across the country — have taken refuge at the Springhurst residence, which is owned by the Oblates.
Shelter was also provided there to those awaiting trial, and in the past has included accused Catholic priests from outside the order.
No matter the situation, nor the crimes committed, residents at Springhurst have their needs attended to for the rest of their lives. The head of the Oblates says it’s part of their post-incarceration care and surveillance.
Coming to terms with abuse
Critics say survivors, including those who were reduced to being identified as a number during their childhoods, have no such support or security following the crimes.
The Charlie brothers were forced to live on separate floors at the residential school, but now decades later they share horrific memories from the abuse they suffered.
Tony, who walks with a cane, still remembers his introduction to Brother Doughty. Within days of Doughty’s arrival at Kuper Island, he took the boy into his room and invited him into his bed.
Sometimes he’d get drunk and we all knew every night he was going to be a sexual predator.– James Charlie
“It was just very shocking to have that happen, because I was just meeting him,” he said.
Doughty would go on to seek out other boys.
“Sometimes he’d get drunk and we all knew every night he was going to be a sexual predator,” said James Charlie, who still lives on the island.
“The next morning, the poor guy could hardly walk. But nobody said nothing because it could be their turn tonight.”
In 2002, Doughty was sentenced to three years in prison for his historical crimes at the Kuper Island school, including indecent assault on a male, gross indecency, and one count of buggery involving 11 different victims. Those were the laws on the books when the crimes occurred in the 1960s and ’70s.
James calls Doughty’s prison time for crimes at Kuper Island “nothing.”
After all, it was Doughty’s fourth conviction for crimes against children in different parts of the country.
Series of convictions
Initially convicted in Thunder Bay in the late 1980s, Doughty was later found guilty of sexually abusing young students at a residential school in Williams Lake, B.C.
Dolores Pflanz, who worked at Kuper Island Residential School in 1970, says she witnessed Doughty’s inappropriate behaviour with students.
She was in the courtroom when the judge spoke sternly to Doughty and the Oblates in 2002.
“He told the Oblate priest, ‘If you want to take care of him, there must be someone in his presence at all times. You must take the door off of his sleeping room. He cannot even go to the bathroom alone,'” Pflanz recalled.
Doughty apologized and expressed remorse. He became a responsibility the Oblates say they took seriously.
Ken Thorson, head of the Oblate order, said Doughty had “been living at Springhurst” since he was released from prison.
‘I want to die in peace’
But in late 2020, after nearly two decades living with free room and meals, Doughty left Springhurst and the order altogether.
He’s still active on social media, including Facebook and Instagram. When CBC reached him by phone last fall he was at the Rideau Centre, a mall in downtown Ottawa.
Doughty didn’t want to talk about his time at Kuper Island, saying: “I’ve had too much grief over it … I’ve had so much suffering, so much pain … I want to die in peace.”
In a subsequent conversation, Doughty said his lawyer and psychologist advised him not to talk further with CBC.
While it appears Doughty is still living in the nation’s capital, he’s no longer actively monitored by the Oblates or other authorities.
“Glenn made the choice to leave the Oblates against my strong urging,” said Thorson. “He was adamant that he needed to leave. By Canadian law, I can’t compel an adult to stay somewhere where he doesn’t want to stay.”
Home is ‘helpful to the common good’, leader says
Thorson says he wanted Doughty to remain in the order because he feels it’s the Oblates’ responsibility to provide “adequate support.”
“I truly believe that we’re doing something that’s helpful to the common good by caring for the needs of our members who have that offending history,” said Thorson.
Doughty, now 84, has no record of crimes since leaving prison around 20 years ago, but Thorson notes there are still concerns.
“I’m worried about recidivism with any offender,” he said.
Survivors network of those abused by priests
Over the years, Glenn Doughty would have crossed paths with another convicted sex offender at Springhurst. Father John McCann also lived at the residence between trials, and after his incarceration.
Like Doughty, McCann served the Oblates across the country.
When Leona Huggins was just 12, she answered phones and brought tea to the priests’ rooms while working at her Oblate parish in New Westminster, B.C., about 50 years ago.
McCann gave her special attention — grooming her, then regularly sexually assaulting her in the 1970s.
“He began singling me out,” Huggins said of McCann. “Over a long period of time he abused me.”
In 1990, when Huggins was 29, she discovered McCann still had access to children and she reported him to police. Court documents show the Oblates quickly moved McCann to one of their residences.
I knew that if he started a youth group he was going to abuse other people– Leona Huggins
McCann was eventually convicted of six counts of sexual abuse of girls under 16, and served 10 months in jail.
For many years after his release, he lived at Springhurst.
Then in 2011, Huggins blew the whistle again after finding out he was still ministering to an Ottawa congregation with children. At the time, the archdiocese said it was unaware of McCann’s record.
“I knew his method of operation. I knew that if he started a youth group he was going to abuse other people,” said Huggins, now an advocate for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
McCann was removed from the ministry, but Huggins says she was condemned by the church for “ruining a man’s life.”
“It’s hard to see these men being so well taken care of when the survivors have not been,” said Huggins. “I wasn’t only ignored, I was ostracized for something that I should have been ultimately thanked for.”
McCann never faced any further charges. He was 89 when he died in 2018 at an Ottawa hospice, having spent many years at Springhurst.
“For every victim that has the courage to come forward, there are probably five that didn’t. And I can tell you in McCann’s case, I know four,” said Huggins.
Protecting and monitoring perpetrators
Springhurst residence is owned by one of several corporate holding companies formed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which has a stated aim “to provide health care, maintenance and other benefits for the needy, aged or infirm priests and brothers who are members of Roman Catholic religious orders and who adopted a vow of poverty while serving such orders.”
The Oblates advocate for the release of offenders into their care, and even have an internal policy detailing how to deal with sex abusers.
“If they have an offending history, either convicted or a credible allegation of an offending history, then we receive them into our community. We don’t dismiss them from the community,” said Thorson.
The Oblates have an all-Catholic advisory committee to oversee the monitoring of sex offenders.
“We see the problem inherent in policing ourselves,” said Thorson. “We’ve begun to look at this and we will make that change. … My goal would be the next six months.”
Currently, 19 men live at Springhurst, and two of those former priests are sex offenders.
“We ensure the men are well fed, well cared for. There’s a little bit of nursing that’s offered,” said Thorson.
“None of our places are ostentatious or luxurious … but I can appreciate where people would be concerned that these men are living a life of comfort and they’re cared for, while victims would still carry the pain of their abuse. And yet the reason that we continue to care for them is to allow us to continue to monitor.”
‘System is broken’
Huggins remains skeptical.
“They cannot monitor themselves because the system is broken,” she said.
The Springhurst residence often employs cleaners, cooks and others to help look after residents.
When asked if staff are told sex offenders are living in their workplace, Thorson replied, “administrators are made aware of Oblates with a history as they are in the best position to make appropriate staffing decisions that best keep vulnerable persons safe.”
But as recently as 2019, the director at Springhurst was himself a convicted sex abuser.
Now elderly, Father Ed MacNeil was convicted of historical crimes against seven young boys in a parish outside Thunder Bay, Ont. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 1996.
Thorson told CBC that MacNeil’s “faculties for sacraments and public ministry” were revoked in 2010, yet he has presided over funerals in recent years, according to public obituaries.
They are a danger to the order.– Tom Doyle
He’s also a former provincial superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ottawa, and still lives at Springhurst.
Tom Doyle, a former priest who studied at both Saint Paul University and the University of Ottawa, frequently speaks out on behalf of survivors of clergy abuse. He told CBC he wonders why the church continues to protect, shelter and employ those convicted of crimes.
“They are a danger to the order,” said Doyle. “They shouldn’t be allowed to remain in the religious orders or in a diocese. They should be laicized because the excuse that we have the opportunity to monitor them, to keep an eye on them, to do all this stuff is a very weak one, because in practice that has not been very well carried out.”
Another Oblate priest currently living at Springhurst, Richard Wolak, pleaded guilty in 1999 to sexually assaulting a girl multiple times in 1983 and 1984. Around the time of his sentencing he was put in charge of another Oblate residence, according to newspaper reports.
Recently released offender offered home
Along with Springhurst, the order runs three other residences, including two in B.C. and another in Alberta. All fall under various Oblate corporations operated as charities that don’t pay taxes.
Just last month, Eric Dejaeger, a former Oblate priest and sex offender, was released from an Ontario prison after serving two thirds of his sentence for the abuse of children in Nunavut. It was his second conviction.
Dajaeger’s parole board documents detail violent crimes perpetrated over 15 years against more than 35 victims, and they note he was diagnosed with pedophilia in 1989.
“The Oblates of Mary Immaculate condemn the horrific acts of sexual abuse by Eric DeJaeger,” Thorson wrote in an email to CBC.
“While no decision has been made, it is possible that Dejaeger may reside in an Oblate community where we can ensure he follows his release plan under close supervision and with a full restriction of any activity that could bring him into close contact with minors.”
Thorson wouldn’t say which Oblate residence Dejaeger may reside in the future.
The holding company that owns Springhurst carried more than $6.6 million in assets and investments in 2020, according to Canada Revenue Agency filings — just one of dozens of Oblate corporate entities that together held cash and assets worth at least $200 million.
In a previous news investigation, Thorson told CBC that taking care of the Oblates’ roughly 300 aging members has become a “major priority.”
While Thorson said his order has fulfilled its financial obligations to victims of residential schools, the Oblates remain part of a larger Catholic network that had promised $25 million in compensation for those who endured emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The group was only able to raise $3.9 million and in 2015, the federal government released the church from those obligations.
Ongoing open secret
The Oblate residence sits footsteps from the Rideau River and less than 200 metres from Springhurst Park.
Nearby neighbours know the red brick building is a home for priests, but most people are unaware some of those men are sex offenders.
“Nobody in the community knows about it, but nobody’s actually shocked that they’re actually there,” said Bob Gordon, the current president of the local community association.
Some say they “served their debt to society” in jail, Gordon said, but he and some others feel differently.
“There’s the other perspective of what is the debt to society of somebody who is a sexual offender if they’re being protected and provided with room and board? And what are the victims getting? Compensatory, the remuneration is nothing compared to the ruined lives,” he said.
Victims, meanwhile, continue their search for justice and healing.
Huggins is still waiting for the church to release the names of those who abused children in the past.
“They have to listen. They have to make a list of the known and the credibly known,” said Huggins. “Because that’s the minimum that we should get from them right now. … It validates the experience of the survivor and of anyone that may have been harmed by them.”
Now in their 70s, Tony and James Charlie want to put Glenn Doughty and the Oblates behind them.
“I put Doughty on the back burner. I know what he has done. I have witnessed some of the things he has done,” said James. “I know enough about him and I don’t want to know any more.”
“I don’t think I’m going to get anything from him,” added Tony.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in Canada (SNAP) can be reached at: snapnetwork.org/canada