Morale at Cornwall Police Station was Nosediving in Early 1990s

April 2, 2008

By: Trevor Pritchard, Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

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Morale was so poor among Cornwall police by 1993 that the chief at the time was accusing other officers of carrying out "coups" against their superiors, the Cornwall Public Inquiry heard Tuesday.

Yet it was an officer's duty to "rise above" morale issues and not let them interfere with police work, Staff Sgt. Garry Derochie testified repeatedly under cross-examination.

"If you're a professional and you're having a hard day, you go on and do your job the best you can," said Derochie, a 32-year veteran of the Cornwall Community Police Service.

Questions about the supposedly dysfunctional nature of the force in the early 1990s dominated much of Derochie's eighth day on the stand at the inquiry, which is probing how institutions like the police dealt with historical allegations of sexual abuse.

In December 1992, David Silmser brought his abuse allegations against Rev. Charles MacDonald and now-deceased probation officer Ken Seguin to the attention of city police.

Silmser later accepted a $32,000 payout from the Roman Catholic diocese in exchange for not pressing charges. The payout was discovered by former Cornwall cop Perry Dunlop and turned over to the Children's Aid Society in September 1993.

Both Derochie and Supt. Brian Skinner, a now-retired Ottawa police officer, were asked to look into possible flaws in that investigation.

Derochie stopped short Tuesday of agreeing there was a "dysfunctional" atmosphere on the force at the time Silmser came forward - a suggestion made by Allan Manson, a lawyer for the Citizens for Community Renewal.

"I wouldn't accept that," Derochie told Manson. "With regards to (the force's) mandate to serve and protect? No."

Manson - one of three attorneys to cross-examine Derochie on Tuesday - asked him why Dunlop was the only officer at the time who thought the CAS should know about the Silmser case.

Derochie said the consensus was the allegations didn't fall within Section 72 of the province's Child and Family Services Act, which outlines what circumstances require the authorities to notify the CAS about children at risk.

Dunlop was the only one who thought otherwise, he said.

Frank Horn, a lawyer for the Coalition for Action, peppered Derochie with questions about why Cornwall police only sought the help of an Ottawa investigator once the media learned about Silmser's $32,000 payout.

"You've got to (first) embarrass the police force?" asked Horn.

"I don't like that turn of phrase," said Derochie. "But yes, the chief of the day thought it was best for someone else to do it."

Derochie said there is no clear policy on when Cornwall police ask another force to conduct an internal investigation - something he suggested could be part of Comm. Normand Glaude's final recommendations.

Dallas Lee, an attorney for The Victims Group, took Derochie through correspondence written in the three years leading up to Silmser's allegations that painted a gloomy picture of life on the Cornwall force.

One 1990 report on morale suggested some officers felt so overworked they would skip lunch to take calls, which led to "shortcuts" and "sloppy investigation."

A second report that year showed staff had nicknamed then-chief Claude Shaver "the golfer" - a reference to his absences during the summer months - and were concerned the former RCMP officer didn't know enough about municipal police work.

In 1993, Shaver wrote in a confidential letter that he felt low-ranking officers were orchestrating "coups" against higher-ups by spreading rumours and making "personal, brutal" attacks.

Taken together, those reports went beyond "a little bit of dissension in the ranks" and lent credence to Manson's claim the force was dysfunctional, Lee suggested.

Derochie said some of the reports were overstated, and that issues with communication and management were hardly unique to the Cornwall police force.

He said the officers who worked under him never let morale problems interfere with their duty to protect Cornwall citizens.

"I never saw any sign that it (poor morale) was affecting the day-to-day operations," said Derochie.

Lee said it seemed obvious Dunlop felt he couldn't trust anyone on the force when he took Silmser's allegations to the CAS.

"I guess we'll never know," said Derochie, referring to Dunlop's ongoing refusal to testify at the inquiry.

Neither MacDonald nor Seguin were ever convicted of sexual abuse. Seguin committed suicide in 1993 and was never charged, while MacDonald had charges against him stayed in 2002.

Derochie's cross-examination is scheduled to continue this morning.

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