Published on July 20, 2012
Billy Earle, a victim of abuse at Mount Cashel orphanage in the 1970s, has been trying to shake anxiety ever since. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram
Published on July 20, 2012
Billy Earle, shown testifying at the Hughes Inquiry
Published on July 20, 2012
In this 1989 photo, Hughes Inquiry co-counsel David Day comforts witness Leo Rice, a former resident of the Mount Cashel Orphanage. — Telegram file photo
Published on July 20, 2012
The Mount Cashel orphanage closed in 1990 and was subsequently torn down. — Telegram file photo
Published on July 20, 2012
Robert Hillier, a former Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer, investigated complaints of physical and sexual abuse in the 1970s. But authorities covered it up. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram
First in a three-part series.
For some, it might seem a small thing — being declined funding to work out at his gym of choice to combat anxiety, but for Billy Earle, it’s another in a lifetime of letdowns.
Earle wrote Premier Kathy Dunderdale in May about his gym dilemma, along with being turned down for counselling by the Victim Services Program because he’d run into trouble with the law.
It’s a symptom of the treatment Mount Cashel survivors receive from a system that should be aiding their recovery, he said.
The decision not to provide counselling for Earle has since been reversed. But he was told in a letter from Justice Minister Felix Collins in June that he could not have a membership for a downtown gym just a couple of minutes from his home.
Instead Earle was referred to the Y, which has a financial assistance program, but he doesn’t want to run into clients he deals with through his job as a private process server and investigator.
“The Victims Services Program has no plans to provide financial support to individuals for membership to physical fitness facilities,” Collins wrote in the letter.
“You don’t hear us every day bawling out, screaming and looking for stuff,” Earle said of Mount Cashel victims. Earle said bureaucracy has once again let down the survivors, and if he had not fought the loophole that prevented him from accessing counselling, he would have continued on a downward spiral, as some of the other guys have.
He was arrested in January this year after consuming four bottles of wine on top of his prescription anti-depressants, and was charged with uttering threats and resisting arrest after an argument at his girlfriend’s house. He has since received a conditional discharge and probation.
He’s also been dealing for years with two sons who both have juvenile records. And he remains distrustful of the police, fearing vindictiveness for speaking out as an orphanage abuse victim.
“I just wanted to feel numb because I was hearing noises of (Mount Cashel victim) Johnny Williams screaming in my ears of when he was a little boy getting beaten. I was hearing it for a long time while trying to numb it up by drinking, on top of dealing with the issues of my kids in and out of the system,” Earle said of his January breakdown.
It was fall 1975 when Earle and another Mount Cashel resident were brought to social services alleging physical and sexual abuse at the orphanage.
A couple of months later, volunteer Chesley Riche reported the beating of Earle’s brother, Shane, to authorities.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary opened an investigation headed by Det. Robert Hillier, who interviewed two dozen boys.
But Hillier’s findings were covered up, including the confessions he obtained from two Christian Brothers.
The scandal broke when Shane Earle went public in The Sunday Express in 1989 and the subsequent Hughes Inquiry detailed the horror of the abuse and the failure of the archdiocese, the government and police authorities to protect the boys.
Fifteen former Christian Brothers were eventually prosecuted.
Roughly 200 victims have either settled or are pursuing civil claims that trace back to the late 1930s.
The provincial government announced its own $11-million, out-of-court settlement for about 40 victims in the late 1990s.
The final deadline for claims against Christian Brothers entities is Aug. 1.
There are also some outstanding claims against the archdiocese. And there are claims against the provincial government.
A court decision barred the province from responsibility for those who suffered abuse in earlier decades, prior to 1970.
Hillier is still haunted by the memory of being a young police officer rounding up runaway Mount Cashel boys and bringing them back to the orphanage, in the years before he took on that infamous 1975 investigation.
“There were so many boys escaping from Mount Cashel and it was a battle. We were out all night long looking for them,” he said in a rare interview this week.
“You couldn’t handcuff them, but you did everything. You beat them up — not intentionally — but dragging them about trying to get them back in the home. They screamed until they got to the door. When they got to the door they were just scared. And we just threw them into the lions’ den.”
Hillier — the man who was told he “wasn’t very loyal to the Queen” because of his resolve to investigate the case in the mid-1970s — has zero trust in clergy, and doubts to this day the RNC would be able to resist a government-ordered coverup.
“Politics and government, they have control over the police and otherwise. They will deny it today. Don’t deny it to me — I don’t believe it,” said Hillier, who left the force almost 25 years ago.
Child abusers still have a belief they can get away with their crimes, he said.
And he said the Mount Cashel boys deserve any kind of support available in the form of counselling or therapeutic programs to deal with the legacy.
“They were left alone by everybody. Some of them were good boys, but didn’t have a chance to become good citizens in society, what they should have been,” Hillier said.
“I have nothing bad to say about any of those boys. It’s shameful we didn’t help them.”
But Hillier, almost a decade on the force by then, knew the writing was on the wall in 1975 when he began the file.
- Read more special articles:
- Bitter legacy: How Mount Cashel survivors are living with the aftermath
- Trying to numb the pain
“How in the hell am I going to investigate this? How am I even going to bring it to the forefront?” he remembers thinking.
“Clergy ruled the government. … Basically, right from the get-go there was a coverup. And I could feel it.”
The then chief of police ordered him to alter his report to remove references to sex abuse.
Hillier said he would not change the intent.
“I challenged it inside,” he said, patting the left side of his chest.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I remember being parked on Confederation parkway and I was trying to figure out how to get at those two guys I wanted to interview after having been refused the right to do that. I went ahead and got an admission.”
Had charges been pursued in 1975, Hillier believes many boys could have been saved a lifetime of anguish.
He said for those who have gone on with outwardly normal lives, he doubts the legacy ever escapes them.
“My opinion is very simple. I don’t care what profession they went in, I doubt very much they are at peace with this. If they are, they are extraordinary and I don’t believe it,” said Hillier, who is stopped whenever he travels by former Mount Cashel residents and family members.
Reached in Oklahoma, former resident Leo Rice said he is constantly reminded of the past.
“It ain’t worth shit. You never forget crap,” he said of life after the abuse, before cutting off the conversation.
Fred Horne, who was one of two RCMP officers assigned to the Hughes Inquiry, still wonders why police and child welfare authorities were not dealt with harshly for their lack of accountability.
“My concern is what happened to those kids. They were all thrown to the wolves, you might say, for the sake of (people) not doing the right thing,” said Horne, who is retired.
“Kids who are molested that young will relive that forever. … The whole thing is sad.”
Mark Wall, also now retired from the RNC, held the Mount Cashel file for 20 years after the scandal broke in the 1980s, interviewing 1,000 former orphanage residents.
Many had escaped abuse. Others slammed the door in his face. Some pursued criminal and civil cases. And some just wanted to tell their stories to him, he said, recalling one man in Ontario who raised horses and rode around his property with Wall, recounting what happened. And that was the end of it for the man.
Always in the back of his mind was what had happened to Hillier, but Wall said his investigations were not interfered with.
“Nobody attempted it. It was just too public,” he said.
Billy Earle remembers Brother Doug Kenny grabbing the boys by the hands when they were dropped at the police station in 1975.
“He said, ‘You got to know where you live when you come out of there,’” Earle recalled.
At age 11, Earle gave a statement, saying that Brother Alan Ralph had come to his dormitory room pretty well every night for that past year, instructed him to turn in and then put his hands inside his pyjamas to fondle him.
Earle also stated Kenny kissed him in the swimming pool.
Earle said life would have been so different for the boys had they been listened to then.
“I don’t know what childhood was,” he said.
In the lead-up to the Hughes Inquiry, he said he dodged investigators at first and his anxiety and panic attacks have continued since his testimony and into the present.
Earle said some of his compensation was paid out in a divorce settlement. He has a monthly stipend and a chunk put in an annuity and he works as a private process server to pay his bills.
He had stopped counselling in 2004 when his longtime counsellor died.
After his breakdown in January, Earle went to Victim Services and was turned down. Earle appealed to The Telegram and said his counselling was reinstated after columnist Russell Wangersky wrote about it.
Now Earle sees a counsellor who he said is a former Christian Brother and is trying to overcome his anxiety and lessen his reliance on prescription medication by working out. He’s paying for the gym membership himself.
Earle said he didn’t realize the full impact of post-traumatic stress on his life, especially after his trusted counsellor died. Then he started taking account of where some of the other Mount Cashel boys of his era are.
“I look back now today where some of the guys are who I knocked around with, and it’s frightening,” Earle said.
“I guess I am one of the lucky ones to have supports around me.”
In Saturday’s Telegram, read about brothers John and Jerome Williams, whose lives were lost in the emotional wreckage of the Mount Cashel scandal, as well as the story of a man who did well in life, but who remains scarred from the abuse he said he suffered in the late 1940s and into the ’50s.
On Monday, a victim never heard before speaks out, and another man laments his alcohol-fuelled 57-page criminal record.
Saturday: shattered lives