Less than three months after Scouts Canada insisted police had been told everything it knew about suspected pedophiles in its midst, the group now warns there may be allegations of sex abuse in its past that were never reported to authorities.
The admission comes as a result of an ongoing third-party review of Scouts Canada records relating to abuse, some of which don’t make it clear whether police were ever notified of the allegations.
“I’m ashamed these things happened in our organization…but I’m definitely concerned and as motivated as anyone to do things right at this point,” Chief Commissioner Steve Kent said Friday in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Those cases — unearthed in the review being conducted by KPMG’s forensic group — are now being turned over to police as they’re being found, Kent said.
“If there are records that they’re uncovering as result of their investigation and we can’t confirm that they’ve been shared with police authorities in the past, then we’re immediately referring that information to the police.”
The development follows a public apology by Scouts Canada in December, when Kent apologized to anyone who may have “suffered harm” at the hands of volunteer leaders.
In a solemn video posted on the organization’s website, he also said at the time that any information on suspected pedophiles was shared with police. He announced the third-party review to give the public “complete confidence” that every record of abuse was handled properly.
A report last year on CBC’s investigative news show “The Fifth Estate” alleged Scouts Canada maintained a list of suspected pedophiles dating back at least to the mid-1980s and did not share it with authorities — an allegation the organization repeatedly denied.
“The statement I made in December was absolutely true, based on any cases that I had awareness of,” Kent said.
“I’m surprised at some of what’s being discovered. I’m also very sorry and while I can’t be held directly responsible, I assure you that I do take responsibility for confronting our past completely.”
While Kent wouldn’t say how many cases were suspected of never being flagged for police, he said most of those files involved allegations that happened years ago, some even going back six decades.
“We’re talking about, for the most part, cases that I would consider historic,” he said.
“The reality is that there are bad people out there in the world and some of these incidents…took place in a different time. We were perhaps more naive back then.”
Some files currently being turned over to authorities may have indeed gone to police in the past, but Kent said the records don’t note such involvement, so the organization is “erring on the side of extreme caution.”
In addition to the KPMG review, which will be made public once it’s completed later this year, Scouts Canada has also engaged a panel of experts to review its policies and procedures and make recommendations.
The organization is also reviewing its own screening processes for volunteer leaders and looking at how it can improve training for staff and volunteers, said Kent.
“For millions of Canadians, scouting really has been the start of something great, and I can assure parents, community leaders and the children and youth of this country that scouting continues to be an amazing place,” he said.
“I’m confident that we’re providing an extremely safe and healthy environment.”
Current legislation in Canada obliges anyone who suspects child abuse to report it to police and the child welfare body in the relevant province or territory.
Sanctions, including fines of up to $1,000, exist for those who fail to flag any such suspicions, said Michael Saini, a University of Toronto assistant professor with an expertise in child welfare.
“Each province has its own mandate for child maltreatment and neglect,” Saini said.
Those mandates weren’t in place decades ago, which means historic cases of alleged abuse may not have been turned over to authorities with the same degree of urgency that exists today. Ontario, for example, created its abuse reporting legislation in 1965, Saini said.
“It’s difficult to look at what’s happened 50 years ago and consider it in the standards that we have now of child abuse and reporting of child abuse,” he said.
“As time has gone on, we’ve become more protective of children and the risk of being abused. And so as society we’ve become more aware of occurrences and more reactive, in a good way, to ensure that children are safe.”