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‘They knew’: Victims of sexual abuse by youth leader sue Anglican Church

A former youth leader at the Church of St. Bride’s in Mississauga, Ont., who was previously convicted of sexual assaults on young boys, is now being sued, along with the Anglican Church of Canada.

Garth Bent, who also worked as a camp counsellor at Ontario Pioneer Camp in Port Sydney, pleaded guilty in 2009 to three counts of indecent assault and one count of attempted indecent assault.

“Three men have stood up and brought a lawsuit. … The church harboured a sexual predator,” alleges Justin Linden, the men’s lawyer. Three claims filed in relation to the case are seeking a total of $19.5 million.

“They knew he was having boys sleep over. They never should have allowed it. And we sued the camp and camp staff knew that he was selecting a different boy each night on these trips to sleep in his tent.”

The three men sat down with Global News and shared their stories. Their identities are being protected.

“I was around 10 years old when I met Garth Bent, and I attended a youth group in Mississauga at St. Bride’s Church … He had asked me if I wanted to go to Ontario Pioneer Camp in Ontario. I thought it was going to be a really great idea,” recalled one of them.

“Each night, Garth Bent would choose a child to sleep in his tent — just the two of them — and that’s where the incidents would occur. I was just a child. Of course I was terrified. I was alone. I was in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

For years, he kept the abuse a secret.

“It’s just complete, numbing terror and you’re truly intrinsically frozen about what to do with it,” he added.

Ontario Pioneer Camp is a Christian summer camp that is part of a non-profit organization called Intervarsity.

A spokesperson for Intervarsity told Global News the camp was “not aware of any of the acts alleged to have been committed by Garth Bent before or during the time Mr. Bent was a camp participant.”

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The camp says it “has always met or exceeded the relevant standards for its screening and training of camp staff and volunteers.”

Another victim, who met Bent at church youth group, described him as “larger than life.”

He recalled winning a competition that Bent held for the boys in the church youth group.

“Whoever could hand out the most brochures was going to win a night to go to Garth’s place,” he said.

It was there that he said he was sexually abused.

“I was terrified,” he said.

“He was given the full confidence of the church, and the church knew there was something very wrong with him. They knew he was having these boys sleepover. They knew that this was not appropriate and they allowed it to happen, and instead they clothed them in the authority of the church. They let him lead boys in prayer. They gave him authority, he gave him power, and he abused that power. And he did it on their watch,” said Linden.

The third victim who spoke to Global News claimed Bent “began to put his hand into my underwear and he began to masturbate me. … I felt shameful, I felt hurt, I felt scared.”

It was decades later that he went to police in Peel Region to report the sexual abuse.

“Probably about 25 years had passed before he came, basically through our door to make a complaint about this offence,” said Det. Bruce Thomson, with the special victims unit.

“He had struggles with things in his life as a result of the actions of Garth Bent: psychologically, emotionally, physically. And his motivating factor, though, above all, was that he didn’t want to see anyone else be a victim at the hands of Garth Bent,” he added.

Thomson took statements from the victims and began to investigate.

“The charge back then was indecent assault on a male. That’s been changed. It would now would be sexual interference in the Criminal Code and with that information I had reasonable grounds and laid a charge against Garth Bent,” said Thomson.

Bent eventually received an 18-month conditional sentence.

Thomson referred to that as a “slap on the wrist.”

“Instead of spending 18 months in prison at a provincial facility, you get to serve it in the community. … You’re allowed to go to work, you can go grocery shopping at least once a week, you can go to a place of worship once a week, and then the rest of the time you spend at home,” said Thomson, adding, “unfortunately it doesn’t serve as a specific or a general deterrent to have other people not to engage in these behaviors.”

“I do not feel that justice was done,” said one of the victims.

The men described how the sexual abuse has impacted their lives.

They shared similar stories of addiction, drugs and alcohol.

“It destroyed me … I don’t want in Canada for what happened to me to happen to another kid,” said one of the men.

“I ended up being homeless for a few years. I was smoking crack. … I got addicted to gambling. You name it, I was addicted to it. Anything that would take me away. I couldn’t sit still by myself with my thoughts,” said another.

“My work has suffered. My relationships have suffered. My daily routines have suffered. Everything gets altered,” explained another man.

Bent has denied the allegations of sexual abuse in his statement of defence. Both his lawyer and the Anglican Church of Canada declined to comment.

The church has denied knowledge of Bent’s alleged sexual abuse in its statement of defence.

“The criminal case is against the assailant, Garth Bennett, the civil case is against the organizations that harbored him and that gave him authority, and the only way to call them to account is through a civil claim because they’re not charged with any criminal offenses. And if you don’t bring these civil cases and you don’t turn the light on what they did and allowed to happen, it just continues,” said Linden.

“They’ve come forward and they’re prepared to tell their story … it takes a long time to stand up. And now they’ve stood up and they’re prepared to be counted,” said Linden.

Thomson said he believes there could be more victims who have yet to contact police or seek help.

“He had unfortunately access to many, many victims. And I’m sure the ones that I’ve been able to come across, I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“Certainly if they would want to come forward, we are more than willing and would be glad to hear from them. There’s no right or wrong answer. Everyone has to make their individual decision. But if they even want to talk about it and see what their options are, we’re always more than happy to do so.”


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