The matter involving the former executive director of the local Children’s Aid Society charged with 10 counts each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life is moving to the Superior Court of Justice.
Last week Deputy Attorney General for the province of Ontario, Paul Bonifero, preferred an indictment on those charges against William (Bill) Sweet, on June 24, 2019 as is his purview under Section 577 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
According to Acting Prince Edward County Crown Attorney Lee Burgess, this type of indictment eliminates the need for a preliminary inquiry and means that the case can proceed in the Superior Court of Justice.
“A date will be arranged shortly for Mr. Sweet’s appearance in the Superior Court of Justice in Picton to set a date for a trial,” Burgess told the media via email Tuesday. “While a direct indictment is not a common procedure, it has become more common since the Supreme Court of Canada judgment in Jordan and has been the subject of comment by appellate courts in recent years as a manner of avoiding undue delay in having cases proceed to trial.”
Burgess also told the media that the trial could be held either at Picton’s Superior Court House or the Belleville Consolidated Courthouse depending on court availability and resources.
Members of the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) began an investigation in early 2016 involving the operations of the former Prince Edward County Children’s Aid Society between 2002 and 2010.
This investigation came after a number of convictions were successfully sought by the local crown over sexual misconduct involving local foster parents and the children entrusted to their care.
The investigation encompassed a review of previous abuse investigations and convictions, trial transcripts and the outcome of subsequent civil proceedings between 2013 and 2016 prior to the OPP CIB involvement. Police then conducted additional interviews, executed search warrants and seized evidence to put before the court.
Sweet, 68, was the executive director of the local society until early 2013 when the region-wide amalgamation between Hastings County, Northumberland County and Prince Edward County created the Highland Shores Children’s Aid. The identity of the victims, who all have reached adulthood, are protected by a publication ban that was issued by Justice Geoff Griffin when Sweet first answered the charges in Provincial Court on May 2, 2018.
It was Griffin that sentenced a pair of the foster parents in 2012. At the time of sentencing, Griffin implored the public to demand an inquiry into the events as well as calling on Prince Edward OPP to further investigate how this pattern of sexual abuse was allowed to continue.
Highland Shores Children’s Aid executive director Mark Kartusch told the Gazette when Sweet first answered the charges in Picton’s provincial court just over a year ago he was aware of the matter.
“It’s obviously upsetting and I think I’m most upset for the young people who were victims in this,” Kartusch said. “This unfortunately will bring back the memories of the abuse they suffered and it will also bring back those feelings in the community.”
In the fallout of the previous convictions of foster parents on charges of sexual assault and misconduct, the Highland Shores CAS has worked hard locally to re-establish trust with the community. While the matter isn’t itself a new revelation, Kartusch is concerned charges against Sweet will have a detrimental effect on the reputation of the agency.
“It’s a concern. I’d like to think and I have the strong sense we’ve been able to rebuild the trust of the community and we’ve finally been getting some more parents stepping forward and discovering the foster family process,” Kartusch added. “This reflects poorly but this is not reflective of the work that happens each and every day here and the work that takes place in the province of Ontario.”
In a press release issued by the OPP on May 2, 2018, the CIB noted the full co-operation received in this ongoing investigation from the Highland Shores Children’s Aid.