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Saskatchewan priest faces extradition to Scotland over sexual abuse charges

Saskatchewan priest faces extradition to Scotland over sexual abuse charges
WATCH: A Regina area priest is facing extradition to Scotland, charged with physical and sexual abuse. The allegations stem back to his time working in schools. Global’s David Baxter has more on the Scottish authorities order.

A retired Archdiocese of Regina priest is facing extradition to Scotland to face charges of physical and sexual abuse while working at day and boarding schools.

Father Robert MacKenzie has been charged by Scottish authorities for abuse alleged to have happened when he held positions at the schools.

Scottish authorities obtained a surrender order from Canada’s Minister of Justice on March 22, which authorizes MacKenzie’s extradition.

A spokesperson from Scotland’s Crown Office and Prosecutor Fiscal Service said they are not in the position to provide full charges. He added full charges can only be obtained in Scotland once the accused has been indicted and appears for a preliminary hearing.

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MacKenzie, 85, is still in Canada according to a spokesperson with the Archdiocese of Regina. Scottish authorities are making arrangements for medical accompaniment during his extradition and while awaiting trial in Scotland.

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MacKenzie joined the Archdiocese of Regina in 1988 and retired from parish ministry in 2002.

During his time in the archdiocese he served in two Regina churches – Blessed Sacrament and Holy Trinity – before moving to St. John the Evangelist in Marquis, Sask., in 1989 and then to St. Patrick in Cupar, Sask., where he worked until his retirement.

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According to a letter sent by the Archdiocese of Regina to their priests and parishes, MacKenzie worked at the two Scottish schools from the 1950s to the 1980s while a member of “a religious order in Scotland.”

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Regina’s Archbishop Donald Bolen said the archdiocese was first notified of the investigation in 2013. Bolen came to the area in 2016. The archdiocese was informed that MacKenzie had been arrested, charged and quickly released in March 2017. MacKenzie was 84-years-old at the time.

While the investigation has been ongoing, Bolen said MacKenzie has maintained his innocence and cooperated with authorities.

Following archdiocese policy, MacKenzie was moved into a retirement home at the time, where his movement and activities could be further restricted.

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“I think if there’s any question on if further abuse and just – for safety’s sake -to remove the possibility of any further abuse abuse taking place,” Bolen said.

Canada’s Justice Ministry said they cannot comment publicly on the matter due to a publication ban. They could confirm that this case is ongoing, and provided the following statement:

At this point in the process, the Minister must decide on the surrender of the individual based on the wording of the Extradition Act. Commonly referred to as the executive or ministerial phase, the Minister will receive and consider any submissions from the person committed for extradition or counsel for the defence with respect to why the person should not be surrendered, or concerning any conditions that should be attached to the surrender.

An individual sought for extradition may apply for judicial review of the Minister’s decision on surrender to the Court of Appeal in the province where the extradition hearing took place.

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No allegations against MacKenzie have surfaced in communities where he’s served while apart of the Archdiocese of Regina.

Righting past wrongs

Bolen issued a formal apology to victims of clergy sexual abuse on Ash Wednesday this year.

READ MORE: Regina archdiocese apologizes for clergy sexual abuse

The Archdiocese of Regina recently introduced a program for victims to help report abuse and find victim services supports.

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“What we are learning, and have been very slow to learn, is we always need to put victims first,” Bolen said. “Our first obligation is to victims, to welcome them when we come forward and to let them in some sense take the lead in the process.”

Bolen said there have been “many instances” of sexual abuse in the archdiocese, mostly dating to 30 years or more ago.

“It’s been difficult for victims and often they have experienced that the church places its own interest and reputation above concern and care for them. So we’ve tried to reverse that,” he continued.

The archdiocese has been hosting prayer services for victims and using their input to draft training programs for church officials, particularly ministers. The protocol on how to handle allegations is being revised so it is more victim friendly.

While MacKenzie joined the archdiocese long before Bolen became the local archbishop, the procedures to bring in new ministers is being revised too. This will include criminal record checks, a review panel made up of non-clergy members and recommendation letters from previous bishops.

“We’re trying to create a space where victims can in fact speak honestly and take steps that they need toward healing, and that we need in order to be deeply honest about mistakes and sins of the past,” Bolen said.

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