Reader encourages sexual abuse victims to speak up in SWC Lieflander investigation

The writer has kindly agreed to share the following letter, originally directed to the Ottawa Citizen, with The Current’s readers.

Letter to the Editor:

On January 25, 2019, the Citizen published an article about a choir director who fled to Germany after a sexual assault charge was laid against him. The name of the alleged predator is Uwe Lieflander. While he taught at various schools in the Ottawa area, he held the post of choir director for more than ten years at a private Catholic  institution in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom (SWC).  Until a few months ago, the College continued to confirm that it was not aware of any misconduct on Mr. Lieflander’s part, and that it had received no complaints.

On December 2, 2021, just short of three years after the Ottawa Police raised concerns about the possibility that there were other sexual abuse victims, SWC did something that very few if any Catholic institutions have ever done in Canada: it launched an independent investigation of Mr. Lieflander’s  behaviour over the ten years he worked there. (https://www.seat of wisdom.ca). We know from previous reporting that Mr. Lieflander publicly admitted to grooming young people, ostensibly so they could sing better. The victim who placed the charge told a harrowing story about how Mr. Lieflander would target the most vulnerable children at the school. In her case, he distanced her from her own family, convinced her that she was special, and that only he could “care “for her as she should be cared for – all the well-documented traits of a sexual predator. Eventually he raped her, though not at SWC itself. (See https://www.simchafisher.com/2021/07/01/canadian-college-church-and-community-ignored-predatory-choirmasters-red-flags/)

This investigation is important to me personally, as I come from a very traditional Catholic upbringing where anything to do with sex was never discussed openly and freely. There was multi-generational sexual abuse in my family, beginning with my father at the hands of the Christian Brothers who taught him. My father was close to 80 when he disclosed the abuse. He had never even shared it with his wife, my mother. It explained so much about his behaviour to all of us who loved him so deeply.

Catholic institutions have a lousy track record when it comes to opening their doors for an independent look at sexual abuse allegations. Most institutions like SWC, and like my father’s school almost a century ago, continue to attract young people who have been raised in very sheltered home environments., often taught to respect authority figures and not to question behaviour that may make them uncomfortable or worse. They may be ill equipped to recognise sexual predation and may, like so many victims, remain quiet, blaming themselves for what happened to them.

 Some may criticise SWC for taking as long as it did to take action on the allegations made about a teacher with a decade-long track record. But sexual abuse doesn’t have a “best before” date, and this investigation is a unique opportunity for the college to walk the talk about its motto:  “the truth will set you free.”

In my family, just like it is for so many sexual abuse victims, one of the biggest regrets is in not having spoken out sooner so that further victimization could have been prevented.

Many of SWC’s alumni who were taught by Uwe Lieflander would range in age from their early twenties to early thirties. Some of them may live in the area served by the Ottawa Citizen.  You may not even be certain that you, or someone in your life is a victim. What SWC has so bravely done is offer any and all potential victims the opportunity to reach out in complete confidence to a lawyer, Ms. Elizabeth Grace, with the firm of Lerners LLP in Toronto. She can be reached directly at 1-833-913-7718 or at swcinvestigation@lerners.ca. The deadline is February 4, 2022.

If the idea of speaking to a lawyer like Ms. Grace, who specializes in sexual abuse cases, is too daunting for you or someone you love, contact your local sexual abuse support organization – these groups have trained, sympathetic staff who can help you understand whether or not what happened to you constitutes sexual abuse. In the post “Me-too” world, it is still difficult to come forward, and to be believed. But there is strength in numbers. SWC is offering trauma support to witnesses and survivors. If the environment at SWC was conducive to Mr. Lielflander enjoying decade-long exposure to young, perhaps naïve vulnerable traditional Catholic youth, others like him may have also found the environment at SWC, like it has been for so many decades in Catholic Institutions that “care for” children and youth, to be inadvertently, unknowingly predator-friendly.

Please take advantage of this amazing and unique opportunity. Our Lady Seat of Wisdom has taken an extraordinary step in its journey towards greater accountability. It needs those who may have had similar experiences to the one brave woman who has come forward to date, to find their voices, too. If you struggle to do that for yourself, please consider other young people who may escape the traumatic legacy of sexual predation, because you chose to speak up.

Cathy Lyons

Golden Lake, Ontario

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