Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ex-cop to learn fate after refusing to testify

Former Ontario police officer Perry Dunlop, who lives in Duncan, B.C., is refusing to testify before a public inquiry into a pornography ring in Ontario.
Former Ontario police officer Perry Dunlop, who lives in Duncan, B.C., is refusing to testify before a public inquiry into a pornography ring in Ontario.

CORNWALL, Ont. — Former police officer Perry Dunlop learns Wednesday how much longer he'll be in jail for refusing to testify at a protracted and costly public inquiry into how authorities handled long-standing allegations of child sexual abuse -- an inquiry largely of his own making.

The fact he's in jail is seen by Dunlop's fervent supporters as evidence of a coverup by police, clergy, Crown lawyers and politicians -- proof he's being persecuted for blowing the whistle on what was billed as a massive pedophile ring involving Cornwall's rich and powerful.

Others in this tight-knit community who knew him as a "hero'' police officer and a "charismatic'' musician say they fear his crusade went off the rails long ago -- a point Dunlop is either too proud or too emotionally unstable to concede.

Dunlop's off-hours investigation of sex abuse allegations exploded onto the national stage in 1993 after local resident Ron Leroux claimed he'd seen for himself bizarre sex rituals involving powerful, robe-clad community leaders and young boys.

In a 1996 affidavit, Leroux claimed the pedophile ring operated for decades, beginning in the 1960s.

A police investigation, dubbed Project Truth, laid some 115 charges against 15 men but failed to uncover any evidence of a ring. Ultimately, only one person was convicted.

Testifying before the inquiry last summer, Leroux admitted he'd made the whole story up.

Dunlop, his wife Helen and their many supporters, however, claim Leroux was pressured into changing his story by powerful people in Cornwall who have long conspired to bury the truth.

"Perry was a bona fide hero in the eyes of the community, in my eyes as well at the time, when the whole thing began,'' said Ken Parker, a longtime Cornwall resident who attends the inquiry daily with his wife, Peggy.

"At some point his private investigation, I think, went off the rails. Probably because he believed some of the testimony of Ron Leroux.''

Dunlop's crusade began after he uncovered a $32,000 settlement between an alleged abuse victim and the local Roman Catholic diocese. The man's allegations had been the subject of an investigation that ended after Cornwall police concluded there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges.

Dunlop smelled a coverup and handed documents detailing the case over to the Children's Aid Society.

"A police coverup? I think there was some sloppy police work, but I haven't seen anything about a coverup yet,'' said Claude McIntosh, a columnist with the Cornwall Standard Freeholder newspaper.

Dunlop's work didn't end there. Along with his wife and brother-in-law, the police officer began his own investigation and interviewed alleged sexual assault victims, including Leroux.

"He bought into Ron Leroux's story about the ring . . . everybody bought into that story. It's a great story if you're into conspiracies,'' McIntosh said.

"Then, I think, in the last (few) years he saw that coming apart. That's when he moved to B.C. to get away from everything.''

Last month, Dunlop told two Toronto judges who'll decide his sentence for the contempt conviction: "I just don't have the heart to go in there and face the barrage of the inquiry.''

Dunlop, speaking frequently of himself in the third person, appeared emotionally fragile as he told the court he "felt from day one they were out to get Perry Dunlop'' and to "crucify Perry Dunlop.''

On Wednesday, he'll face those judges again as they sentence him to what could be up to six months in jail for refusing to testify at the inquiry his allegations helped give life to -- an inquiry that's already cost taxpayers more than $23 million.

Duncan, B.C., resident Evelyn Beaveridge was among the 75 supporters at Dunlop's home on Feb. 17 when he was arrested by the RCMP on a Canada-wide warrant.

Beaveridge said she doesn't know what to make of Dunlop's steadfast belief in a pedophile ring, but added she's convinced he hasn't been treated fairly by the justice system.

"I want to see justice done, and I don't know all the ins and outs of this, but I know that the justice system has not been served correctly with this case,'' she said.

Beaveridge said she can understand why Dunlop doesn't want to testify, especially after he's already provided a written statement to the inquiry.

"Can you remember 14 years ago every detail of what was said to you? With 62 lawyers grilling you in court, how would you do?''

Peggy Parker, who ran a music store in Cornwall and often attended Dunlop's music performances with her husband Ken, remembered a "charismatic, good looking, nice young man . . . who was a great singer.''

"And then Perry's health broke down . . . he's a tortured, tormented, beaten-down kind of personality,'' Parker said.

Last week, the former police officer who investigated the alleged abuse that touched off Dunlop's probe was excused from testifying before the commission after a psychologist's report deemed doing so could have "adverse effects'' on her mental health.

Paul Scott, president of Citizens for Community Renewal, a group with standing at the inquiry, said he's "very concerned about (Dunlop's) unwillingness to testify.''

"If there is a medical reason for him not testifying I think he should come forward with a proper authority attesting to that fact, bring it to the court, and let's be done with it,'' he said.

Ken Parker, a member of Scott's group, said he's also concerned that Dunlop may not be fit to testify, but wondered if there wasn't more to his defiance.

"I think he wants to maintain that hero status,'' said Parker, who taught school in Cornwall for 29 years and counts Dunlop's wife as one of his former students.

"If you want to be both a martyr and a hero at the same time, maybe that has something to do with not getting a medical certificate.''

Cornwall, for the most part, has lost its appetite for the 'clan of pedophiles' story, but that's not to say there aren't real victims of sexual abuse in Cornwall, McIntosh said.

The same could be said for any town across the country, he added.

"Go to any town . . . give me four (Ontario Provincial Police) investigators, unlimited budget and four years and I'll come up with the same thing,'' he said.

"It's there.''

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