Ex-Windsor Priest John Duarte Arrested for Alleged Child Sex Abuse in Haiti

October 21, 2009

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Joao Jose Correira Duarte, a former Windsor priest, is now facing extradition to Canada, where he's expected to face 12 charges in the sexual abuse of Haitian youths, age 12 to 17, the Immigration Office and National Drug Control Directorate said in a statement sent to Canwest News Service.

A former local priest, who founded a mission to aid the poor in Haiti, has been arrested in the Dominican Republic and is awaiting extradition to Canada to face charges of sexually abusing teenage Haitian boys.

John Duarte, 43, former leader of the Windsor-based Hearts Together For Haiti, was picked up Tuesday in the city of Puerto Plata by Dominican authorities on a warrant issued in Canada, according to a statement released by the Dominican Immigration Office and National Drug Control Directorate.

It is alleged Duarte had been engaging in sexual relations with a group of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 in Port-au-Prince.

He faces 12 charges of sexual abuse.

Duarte is accused of seeking sexual encounters with the youths in the city’s hotel rooms in exchange for favours, such as buying them clothes or paying for better lodging for the victims’ families in the sprawling slums of the Haitian capital.

The statement said Duarte is being held in a Dominican prison where he will await the trip back to Canada.

Duarte had worked as a missionary off and on in Haiti since the 1990s, while also serving as a parish priest in Windsor and Essex County — most recently at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and previously at St. Michael’s Church in Leamington.

It took the Dominican authorities four weeks to apprehend Duarte after receiving a diplomatic note from the Canadian Embassy Sept. 28. The arrest warrant was signed by a Windsor justice of the peace. The embassy was informed of the arrest Wednesday.

Duarte had been under investigation by the RCMP and the OPP, with the support of the Haitian National Police after officials from Hearts Together for Haiti received complaints in June 2006 from residents in the seaside village of Labadie, on Haiti’s northern coast near the city of Cap Haitian.

Duarte had been living in the impoverished village since October 2003, where he had been directing the affairs of the charitable group, which had built and was operating two schools, a health clinic and running a child and family sponsorship program.

The HTFH leaders received information that parents were concerned Duarte was seducing adolescents in the community.

When reached for comment Wednesday, HTFH officials said they were surprised only by the timing of the arrest.

"We were just waiting for the news," said Marcie Spratt, who, along with her husband Keith, had helped run the sponsorship program in Labadie for children and the sick and elderly. "Now it’s in the the hands of the police."

Keith Spratt said the aid organization took action immediately after learning of the situation.

He said HTFH officials flew to Haiti and confronted Duarte about the allegations. Duarte was removed as director. Spratt said the information was relayed to police in Canada and, in October 2007, OPP officers asked if the organization would co-operate in an investigation.

The HTFH officials, accompanied by RCMP and OPP detectives, returned to Haiti in December of that year. It is not known whether charges are pending in regards to the Labadie investigation.

Duarte, his close-cropped hair dyed a brassy blonde at one time and sporting tattoos and a nipple ring, worked tirelessly for the poor in Haiti, according to charity workers.

Supporters from HTFH, while accompanying him on his frequent trips to the country, said they witnessed the priest going into the infamous, gang infested Cite Soleil slums of Port-au-Prince where he would care for the deathly sick in area clinics.

While helping build the HTFH school in Labadie, Duarte performed minor surgery by flashlight on a villager who had been hurt on the job site when a load of cinder blocks fell on his foot. During the February 2004 coup, Duarte sheltered officials of the besieged government of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide until they could be airlifted to safety.

The same spring, well after dark and still arranging sponsorship programs, the priest’s work was interrupted when Labadie villagers came to tell him that a child had been hurt in a fire. He helped take the badly burned infant across the mountains to hospital in Cap Haitian. The child died overnight and Duarte brought the tiny girl home, prepared the body for burial and presided over the funeral that afternoon.

He was a spokesman on Haitian development issues for media, including CNN and some local supporters campaigned to have him recommended for the Order of Canada.

"I’m not going to change history," said Steve McDougall, who sits on the board of HTFH.

"I was a dear and good friend of his. I had tremendous respect for him and his work. He was like a young brother to me.… But we had a serious allegation that we couldn’t ignore. And, friend or no friend, we had to look into it, for the kids. You have to look after the kids."

Keith Spratt, also a board member, said the ordeal has taken a toll on his family and the organization.

"We see the posters in the church about abuse and they say it’s not only your duty it’s your moral and legal obligation to report it," he said. "We had no choice."

His wife said she realizes the grief that the news will cause the church, yet again. "It’s making me sick," she said. "I don’t want any more pain for the Catholic church. I know it’s going to hurt. But the church never tried to hide this. We talked to five different priests and they all said, in plain English, go to the police."

With files from Jorge Barrera

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