Scouts Canada meticulously recorded the names of pedophiles discovered in its ranks for decades in a secretive system dubbed the "confidential list," CBC’s The Fifth Estate has learned.
The records documented sex abusers barred from scouting and sit in its national headquarters, a square, two-storey grey building in Ottawa’s west end.
Sources say only a select few can view the files. Scouts Canada won't say how many of the documents exist.
A lawyer specializing in child sex abuse is calling for the country's premier youth group to go back and scan its files for any information that may not have been shared with police.
"They need to pass this information on," says Rob Talach, a London, Ont.,-based lawyer. "We’re talking about sexual abuse of a young person — a very serious crime."
Talach says the information gathered for at least one-third of the history of the century-old organization could not only inform academic researchers studying pedophilia, but may also provide clues in cases authorities can still prosecute.
South of the border, thousands of the Boy Scouts of America’s so-called "perversion files" have been released to lawyers suing the organization. In an effort to keep them out of troops, the files document staff or volunteers suspected or convicted of molesting boys. But according to American lawyers who have seen the files the organization often kept allegations from police.
A Washington state Supreme Court decision in 2006 forced the Boy Scouts of America to open up its entire collection of perversion files, formally known as the "ineligible volunteer list," to a legal team representing two brothers abused by their scout leader.
Seattle-based lawyer Tim Kosnoff, who represented the brothers, gained temporary access to more than 5,000 files dating from 1947 to 2005. The Scouts began the list in the 1920s but destroyed some files as former leaders died. A separate request before the Oregon Supreme Court is seeking to make the files public.
By Kosnoff's calculations, for the files dated between 1991 and 2005, about 2,500 individuals were placed on the perversion list over allegations of sex abuse, an average of one file created every two days.
A confidential 1972 policy memo by the Boy Scouts of America has also come to light, showing officials urged discretion when dealing with molesters. "Indicate [to the accused molester] that the BSA is not sharing this information with anyone and only wish him to stop all Scouting activity," it states.
"The Boy Scouts routinely did not notify the police when they became aware of child molesters," said Kosnoff. "Their primary concern was protecting the organization. So they covered it up."
Scouts Canada categorically denies that its files are similar to the secret records kept by its U.S. counterpart and stresses that the two agencies operate separately.
In a written statement, Janet Yale, Scouts Canada's executive commissioner and CEO, described the U.S. system as "pink files" that track "incidents, reports or even rumours concerning volunteer leaders."
"Unlike the Boy Scouts of America, Scouts Canada has no history of keeping so-called 'pink files,' 'pink folders,' 'secret lists' or 'secret files,'" wrote Yale. "To be clear, we keep no file, folders, lists or records of any kind that detail suspected instances of misbehaviour, policy violations or abuse on the part of volunteer leaders."
Yale stressed the organization does not monitor volunteer leaders "in the face of concerns or complaints," but rather suspends individuals and then looks into the complaint.
Scouts Canada spokesman John Petitti sent CBC an email later stating that the organization does keep records of suspension and termination, but information is shared with police and youth protection services.
"This is our policy and practice," he wrote. "And it has been our policy and practice for as long as we are able to determine. Furthermore, we are unaware of any exceptions to this policy and practice."
Perpetrators likely still active
Documents obtained by CBC's The Fifth Estate show that Scouts Canada maintained a "confidential list" that began as early as the 1950s.
And though the organization’s current policy requires reporting allegations to police, sex abuse lawyers such as Robert Talach argue Scouts Canada should re-examine its older files for past cases that may not have been reported.
"If you have someone who was caught a couple decades ago in their 20s or 30s as a perpetrator, professionals who are aware of the patterns of perpetrators will tell you that that sex offender, that child molester, is likely still active today," says Talach.
In the U.S., a statute of limitations on some crimes means that few old cases would lead to charges, but in Canada there's no time limit for reporting sexual abuse.
The earliest proof of Canada's Scouting movement maintaining records on pedophiles dates back 59 years to a letter in the United Church of Canada archives.
"We do keep a confidential file on leaders that are not satisfactory for working with boys,” says the letter sent to the church on June 24, 1952, by Walter H. Gibson, a regional Boy Scouts commissioner.
The system, Gibson notes in the letter, caught an individual who had been "convicted in the Toronto courts of improper relations with small boys."
U.S. "perversion files" viewed by CBC's The Fifth Estate contained a Canadian Boy Scouts form used by the organization to submit information to a national review board at its headquarters about individuals deemed "unsuitable for leadership."
The form, dated 1983, states possible reasons for putting a leader on the “confidential list” and barring them from the group:
- "Sexual perversion (deviation)."
- "Other gross misconduct."
- "Any conduct which could prejudice or bring disrepute on Boy Scouts of Canada and which cannot be adequately dealt with by district, regional or provincial council action."
Information traded about misdeeds
Also revealed in the U.S. files are several occasions in the 1980s and 1990s when the Boy Scouts of America traded information with Scouts Canada about misdeeds committed by volunteers or staff.
Among the allegations documented in the files include a Canadian volunteer charged with molesting a 13-year-old girl guide. Police dropped the charges, but Scouts Canada still alerted the Boy Scouts of America’s national headquarters about the incident.
At times, Scouts Canada used information gleaned from its American counterparts.
One record refers to the Canadian Scouts suspending an individual, pending an investigation, based on notification from the Boy Scouts of America that the man had been placed on the U.S. confidential list. The U.S. file includes several handwritten depositions detailing accusations of a scoutmaster inappropriately kissing, tickling and pinching Canadian boys.
The American scouting organization has argued that its pedophile problem is no worse than in other youth-based groups and that sex offenders managing to infiltrate the group represent only a small fraction of its millions of volunteers.
On both sides of the border, the scouting movement has increased efforts in recent years to keep out pedophiles.
In 1997, Scouts Canada instituted a national policy requiring that all its volunteers — more than 20,000 a year — undergo a criminal record check, reference checks and a screening interview specially designed to detect red flags.
Several years later, Scouts added more stringent preventive measures: a "two-deep rule" requiring that two fully screened, registered leaders be present with youth at all times.
Scouts Canada’s current policy also dictates that volunteers accused of sexual abuse are immediately suspended. Police and child protection services are then notified of the complaint.
Experts tell CBC that Scouts Canada's recent changes are commendable, but the organization has a duty to dig into its past.
Talach says it's possible that the Scouts hold information that might be able to stop a present sex offender by putting him behind bars.
"If they’re still sitting on it today, that is a moral and societal failing of theirs," says Talach.
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