By Tina Comeau
Although the sentencing of a former priest – who in May had pleaded guilty to six counts of indecent assault – did not go ahead as scheduled on Friday, Aug. 17, the Crown did reveal that a joint recommendation of five-and-a-half years is what is being considered.
The health of the accused prevented the sentencing from taking place.
In May Albert LeBlanc, 83, of Bouctouche, New Brunswick, pleaded guilty to six counts of indecent assault in relation to offences committed against young boys in the 1960s, ‘70s and ’80s. LeBlanc was a priest for part of that time. He chose to leave the priesthood in 1973. Afterwards he worked as a caseworker with Family and Children Services and then as a probation officer.
Victims of the offences to which LeBlanc has pleaded guilty ranged in age from seven to 11 years old at the time. LeBlanc’s sentencing is now set for Friday, Nov. 23, in Yarmouth.
The Crown and LeBlanc’s lawyer spoke to the judge in a Yarmouth courtroom by telephone on Friday morning. The reason given for the adjournment request was LeBlanc’s health. His lawyer, Gilles Lemieux, told the court that due to medical reasons his client was not able to travel to Yarmouth. Lemieux had received a letter from LeBlanc’s doctor indicating this.
Judge James Burrill noted the doctor’s letter did not specify the type of health issue. The judge asked Lemieux if, having spoken with LeBlanc’s doctor, he was satisfied his client had a medical condition that would temporarily prevent him from travelling.
“I can tell you, your honour, that I don’t have to speak to his doctor, I saw for myself and I’m quite sure the condition that he is in right now would preclude anyone from travelling,” Lemieux said.
Crown attorney Alonzo Wright told the court that the Crown was opposed to the adjournment. Judge Burrill said it was unfortunate but from time to time unforeseen medical conditions create delays within the justice system.
But the judge said he didn’t want the matter to be delayed too long and he asked for the earliest available sentencing date that would accommodate everyone’s schedule. LeBlanc’s lawyer, who is from New Brunswick, informed the court that he is involved in a nine-week murder jury trial and because of the trial and the preparation for it he would not be available between early September and mid-to-late November.
Initially a sentencing date of Monday, Nov. 26, was selected, but it was changed, given that this is the first day of the fall lobster fishery. The Crown acknowledged that date would be problematic for some of the witnesses and complainants who are involved in the lobster fishery. LeBlanc’s lawyer did express concern that the trial he is involved with may not be completed by then, but the judge said he was prepared to risk it.
When LeBlanc had entered guilty pleas on May 14, on what was to have been the opening day of his trial, family and friends of the six victims applauded inside the courtroom, displaying their relief that a trial would not go ahead, and also that the accused would be punished for his actions.
The six guilty pleas that were entered – one for each victim – were to offences committed between 1964 and 1970, between 1972 and 1975 and between 1980 and 1982.
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.
In April 2010 the RCMP launched an investigation following complaints made to them and 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.
The remaining charges on the court docket had previously been adjourned to the date of LeBlanc’s sentencing hearing to be dealt with at that time.
When he lived and worked in Yarmouth, LeBlanc was well liked. 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.
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.