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August 28, 2008

Protest Rocks Inquiry

by Trevor Pritchard, Cornwall Standard Freeholder

Dunlop's heart was 'ripped' out

Cries of "Free Perry Dunlop" and "Defrock LaRocque" rang through the early morning air at a raucous protest outside the Weave Shed yesterday.

About 60 people sang songs, chanted slogans, and waved signs in support of Dunlop, the former Cornwall cop who has been in jail since March for refusing to testify at the Cornwall Public Inquiry.

"They took that man, they ripped his heart out, they trampled him, and then they threw him in jail," shouted Dunlop's wife, Helen.

"We're not so far removed from China as people would like to think," she said.

The long-running inquiry is probing how institutions like the church handled allegations of historical sexual abuse.

Many people consider Dunlop one of the inquiry's central figures. In 1993, he turned over a $32,000 settlement between an abuse victim and the Alexandria- Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese -which LaRocque approved -- to the Children's Aid Society.

The former cop has refused to be questioned at the inquiry. When he appeared on the stand in late 2007, he offered instead to read a 110-page statement into the record.

Although his current sentence for contempt is almost up, Dunlop is expected to be sentenced on a second contempt charge in early September.

Security was high at Thursday's hour-long protest. Non-uniformed police officers milled about, while a Cornwall Community Police Service forensics van was parked across the street, filming the action.

So were emotions: when a television cameraman pointed his camera away from the rally, one protester about three feet away began shouting, demanding to know why he'd stopped taping.

Elderly Mother Attended Rally

Dunlop's mother, Heather Laundrie, spoke at the end of the rally.

The 68-year-old Prince Albert, Sask. resident later told the Standard-Freeholder her phone bills had jumped to $700 a month since her son was incarcerated.

Shy by nature, Laundrie said she still welcomed the attention Helen Dunlop was bringing to both her son's plight and the plight of sexual abuse victims across Canada.

"I think it needs to be (in the spotlight)," she said. "We need to bring these victims justice."

Also at the rally was Ron Leroux, who testified at the inquiry about his abuse in 2007.

Wearing a ball cap and a brown corduroy jacket, with his rottweiler "Omen" lying at his feet, Leroux, 61, said Dunlop's situation made it incredibly difficult to watch the inquiry.

"It just upsets me so much, I want to throw my television down the stairs," he said.

Dunlop's Testimony Important

Lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann said while he understood the protesters' "concern and anger," it was extremely important for the inquiry to hear from Dunlop.

"He's always, of course, been able to come here and testify and get out of jail," said Engelmann.

Many of the protesters eventually filed into the Weave Shed's hearing room, where LaRocque, 81, was spending his final day on the stand.

There, Victims' Group attorney Rob Talach hammering LaRocque over how he responded to sexual abuse allegations during his three decades at the head of the local diocese.

His final questions Thursday had to do with Rene Dube, a recently deceased Cornwall priest who was charged with abusing a teen in 1999 and acquitted two years later.

Talach accused LaRocque of having "sat on information" that showed Dube was innocent -information, he said, that would have proven two other diocesan priests were guilty.

"Bishop, would you not agree with me that, on its whole, the institutional response of this diocese while you were bishop, to allegations of sexual abuse against young people, was poor?" asked Talach.

"It could have been better," said LaRocque, after which the gallery broke into applause.


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