By Tina Comeau
The sentencing judge had praise for the courage of the victims who had come forward, and harsh words for the behaviour of a former Yarmouth priest who was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in a federal prison on Friday, Nov. 23, for sexual abuse he committed over two decades on young boys ranging in age from seven years old to their teenage years.
Eighty-three-year-old Albert LeBlanc walked into a provincial courtroom in Yarmouth carrying a baseball cap, but he left under the custody of the sheriff’s department, who carried his luggage as they escorted him out of the courtroom.
Aside from the fact that the length of the prison sentence was a joint recommendation by the Crown and the defence, that LeBlanc would receive anything other than a jail sentence for the abuse he subjected six young boys to from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s was never in question, said Judge James Burrill as he delivered his sentence. LeBlanc, he said, deserves to be in jail.
“Make no mistake, Albert LeBlanc during this time was a sexual predator. Make no mistake that Albert LeBlanc is going to answer for those crimes today. And make no mistake he is going to jail,” the judge said.
LeBlanc, who had been living in Bouctouche, New Brunswick, was a priest in several parishes in Yarmouth County during the 1960s up until 1973 when he chose to leave the priesthood. Afterwards he worked as a caseworker with Family and Children Services and then as a probation officer.
He was well liked and was considered a leader in the community. He was actively involved in the foundation of the Notre Dame Youth Centre and the Boys Club of Yarmouth and also was involved in athletics. He coached minor hockey and organized trips to Boston for altar boys, young hockey players and others in the community to watch NHL games.
But it was during his time as a priest that most of his victims came to spend time with him. They were altar boys. LeBlanc was held in high esteem in the community. For others it was through LeBlanc’s involvement with recreational hockey in the community that they came to be with him. Overall through his years spent in Yarmouth County, he was in a position of trust and no one suspected that he would do anything to harm children.
But harm them he did, the court heard in great detail as the Crown outlined victim-by-victim the abuse they suffered at the hands of LeBlanc. For some victims the abuse began when they were seven or eight years old. For many it continued until the time they were teenagers and could finally stand up to their abuser and say enough is enough, this has to stop. And sometimes, even when they were pleading with him to stop, he continued to molest them during the same conversation, the court was told.
In May, LeBlanc pleaded guilty to six counts of indecent assault in relation to offences committed against young boys. In today’s justice system, the six charges LeBlanc pleaded guilty to would fall under the umbrella of sexual assault. But at the time these offences were committed, sexual assault did not yet exist in the Criminal Code. Back then it was called indecent assault.
(Note to readers: The following paragraphs outline some of the abuse that was described in court.)
For many of the victims the abuse started out with LeBlanc passing his hand over their penis overtop of their clothing. Then it would progress to him unbuttoning their pants, putting his hand down their pants and rubbing his hand over their exposed penis. The abuse took place in the office of a church, in the bedroom of the church rectory, in a residence he lived at in Arcadia and in vehicles when LeBlanc was alone with his victims.
At one point the Crown apologized for the graphic nature of the sexual abuse he was about to outline involving one of the victims. In another case he said a victim had estimated that he had been molested 300 times by LeBlanc over a period of years. For others the incidents of abuse happened 25 or 30 times.
The court was told how in some cases victims held pillows over their faces as the abuse was occurring. In one case LeBlanc squeezed a boys' genitals so hard the pain made him cry.
"He didn't know why LeBlanc did that to him," said Crown attorney Richard Hartlen. "He was smiling and wouldn't let go."
Because LeBlanc was so well-respected in the community, his victims didn't think anyone would believe them about what was happening. And so they said nothing.
Until eventually they could keep silent no more.
In 2010 and 2011 they started coming forward, telling the police about what had happened to them. In April 2010 the RCMP launched an investigation following complaints made to them as LeBlanc’s victims started to come forward to share what had happened to them. LeBlanc was arrested at his home in January 2011. Initially he was charged with 40 counts of indecent assault and gross indecency. The number of charges before the court later climbed to 50. After being sentenced on six charges in court, the Crown offered no evidence on the remaining charges.
Judge Burrill said what the court heard during the sentencing hearing was a sordid and horrible tale of abuse, perpetrated by a person who was a well-respected priest and member of the community. That he breached this position of trust to abuse young children is something the entire community should be outraged by, the judge said.
He praised the men, once just young children, who sat in the courtroom on Friday, surrounded by their loved ones, for seeking out justice.
“(They) are clearly brave adults to come forward at this late stage, a late stage in Mr. LeBlanc’s life, and ensure that justice is done,” said the judge, who went on to give a stern warning to the other Albert LeBlancs that exist in society.
“Let the message go forth to other like-minded individuals, who may be considering, or may be abusing young boys now, no matter how well respected your position is in society, no matter how you may feel insulated . . . there will come a day when your young child victims muster the courage, no matter what your age, to ensure the silence is broken and that you will account for your actions before a court.”
Judge Burrill said it was very clear that a Catholic priest in this community during those years was a person who was well respected and trusted “and whom parents, especially Catholic parents . . . would without hesitation give their children over to the care of this person, Mr. LeBlanc, as a priest, and no doubt were proud of the fact that their sons were assisting the local priest in the works of the church,” he said, adding those parents aren’t to be faulted for trusting someone whom they should have been able to trust.
While there was no evidence in court that LeBlanc ever abused those he may have had dealings with in a line of work as a probation officer, the abuse he committed on the victims did continue after he had left the priesthood.
Meanwhile, aside from the criminal charges, civil suits have also been filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and the Diocese of Yarmouth relating to LeBlanc. LeBlanc is also named in the civil suits.
Prior to his sentence being handed down, LeBlanc was asked if he wanted to address the court. He declined. His lawyer, however, said he takes full responsibility for what had occurred, even though, at the age of 83, he doesn’t remember all of the details as they were presented in court.