Five members of the Congregation of Clerics of Saint-Viateur — a religious order known for its involvement in education — were arrested on a warrant Tuesday morning at the Catholic organization’s retirement home in Joliette for alleged sex crimes against young boys.
Sûreté du Québec spokesperson Ingrid Asselin confirmed the five men arrested are Jean Pilon, 78, Gérard Whissell, 81, Laurent Madore, 83, Raoul Jomphe, 86, and Roger Larue, 88.
Together, they face over 30 charges ranging from gross indecency to sexual assault and indecent assault on 15 alleged victims. Asselin specified the victims were teenage boys and all minors at the time.
Some of the charges are no longer in the Criminal Code but existed at the time the offences allegedly took place.
The alleged events took place between 1961 and 1989 in various educational establishments in the province, including Rigaud in the Montérégie region, Pohénégamook in the Temiscouata region, Matane in the Gaspésie region and La Minerve in the Laurentians.
“They were responsible for teaching and supervising,” Asselin said of the various roles held by the members of the congregation.
Tuesday morning’s arrests were a long time coming for Brian Ford.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment,” he said. “It was a pretty intense day this morning.”
Ford lived and studied at Collège Bourget in Rigaud from 1981 to 1986, where he claims he was abused by two of the five men arrested.
“I was 13, 14 years old, 15,” he said.
Philippe Bertrand, the current headmaster of Collège Bourget, was also a student there in the 1980s.
He said Pilon and Whissel were both prominent staff members.
“They were both the director for … I’d say Grades 7 to Grade 9 students,” he said.
Bertrand says he never witnessed or heard about any sexual assaults when he was a student, but says he wasn’t a boarder at the school so his experience may have differed.
While news of the arrests came as a surprise to Bertrand, he said he had empathy for the presumed victims.
“I mean, if these priests committed criminal actions, I mean, they need to face justice.“
Bertrand said Collège Bourget is a different school in 2020 than what it used to be and that children’s safety comes first.
“We have a whole process. We have the background checks. We have education for educators and there is a zero-tolerance for any situation that might arise,” he said.
Bertrand says he only learned about accusations against former staff through lawsuits filed against the Clerics of Saint-Viateur, including a class action led by Ford that was launched in 2017.
The civil suit is being handled by the law firm Arsenault, Dufresne and Wee on behalf of 270 alleged victims for events that took place at Collège Bourget in Rigaud and at least 20 other establishments.
Lawyer Justin Wee says he believes there are more victims.
“Since the arrests this morning, we have 20 people who called,” he said, noting it had only been a few hours. “So it means that for sure, more complaints are coming.“
Ford, who is now a police officer in Terrebonne, waited decades before coming forward with allegations.
“If you wait for the right moment. It’ll never come,” he said. “So, yeah, it’s like right now I would say to all the victims, that’s it, the good time is right now.”
Ford says he’s ready for what comes next whether it be in civil or criminal court.
“I’ll be ready mentally to to to come face to face with these guys and hopefully other people will understand the message, and they’ll go come forward and do the same thing.”
All five men appeared in court via teleconference on Tuesday and were officially charged. They have since been released with various conditions.
Clerics of St-Viateur Canada said in a statement that it was collaborating with the police and the justice system, but declined further comment due to the ongoing legal case.
— With files from Global’s Dan Spector and The Canadian Press