Three men suing the Boy Scouts of America said the trip they took as children to an idyllic camp on a northern Ontario lake in 1967 turned into a nightmare because of the sexual abuse they said they endured.
The men – who lived in Buffalo at the time of the trip and are now in their late 50s – endured “persistent and harrowing acts of sexual abuse” by a Buffalo Scout leader, according to Andrew R. Kerr of Barrie, Ont., their lawyer.
Kerr filed a civil suit in the Superior Court of Justice for Ontario seeking $2 million in damages for each of the three men.
The lawsuit named the Boy Scouts of America and the Greater Niagara Frontier Council as defendants. The men said they were victimized by a then-26-year-old Troop 335 assistant Scout master, who is now deceased.
The lawsuit alleged the abuse happened 46 years ago, but unlike New York and most other states, Ontario law has no statute of limitations on molestation cases involving a person in authority over a child.
The Oregon Supreme Court last October ordered the Boy Scouts of America to release previously confidential documents on about 1,200 adult leaders from across the country who were expelled from Scouting from 1965 to 1985 because of sexual abuse allegations or arrests.
The so-called “perversion files” included the alleged abuse against two brothers and a third boy from Buffalo on a trip to Camp Northern Lights on Kushog Lake, about 150 miles north of Toronto, in late July 1967.
The parents of the boys submitted handwritten letters to Scout officials explaining what their sons had told them about the alleged abuse on the campgrounds and on the bus ride back to Buffalo.
One letter described how the Scout leader took one of the boys to an empty area of the campgrounds, pulled down the boy’s swim trunks and spanked him five times before putting his hand on the boy’s genitals.
The Scout leader warned the boy “that there were no witnesses and not to report any of the aforementioned happenings to anyone whatsoever.”
Another letter explained what happened on the long bus ride.
“He opened (my son’s) pants buckle and put his hands on his privates and proceeded to molest him. (My son) asked him to please stop, but he kept on,” it said. “He told (my son) not to tell his parents and that he would come and pick him up some night and show him how it’s really done.”
The parents, Kerr said, trusted the Boy Scouts “to choose reputable leaders.”
The Scout leader apparently was removed from his post with the troop shortly after that trip and banned from the Boy Scouts. The files include an Aug. 2, 1967 letter from the Greater Niagara Frontier Council sent to the Boy Scouts of America, along with a “confidential record sheet.”
The national organization confirmed its receipt of the information, which was to be used to identify the Scout leader “should he ever again attempt to register in the Scouting program.”
The plaintiffs maintain that the Boy Scouts knew for many years of widespread problems with sexual abuse in the organization and did damage by systematically hiding reports of abuse rather than alerting authorities.
“Among the public, there was no knowledge of this,” Kerr said. “It will be our allegation in this case that they deliberately concealed those facts to protect their public reputation.”
As of Wednesday, the defendants had not yet been served with legal papers. But Greater Niagara Frontier Council Scout Executive Russell D. Etzenhouser said he is aware of the lawsuit.
Etzenhouser called any instance of abuse, whenever it happened, “a horrible thing.”
But he also pointed out that no one in the current Boy Scout administration at the national or local level had any involvement with events from 46 years ago and that what happened will be difficult to reconstruct with any certainty. “I was 3 at the time of the alleged incident,” he said.
The Boy Scouts, among other organizations, now do the most they can to prevent child abuse, Etzenhouser said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cited the Scouts organization for best practices, he said.
A spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America declined to comment on the lawsuit but said, “We deeply regret that there have been times when Scouts were abused, and for that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims.”
Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith also said in a statement that the organization was one of the first youth programs to develop youth-protection policies and education, and has continued to enhance its policies and procedures, including adding background checks on volunteers and employees and requiring all members to report suspicions of abuse directly to local law enforcement.
The three plaintiffs contacted Kerr about three months ago through Paul Mones, a Portland, Ore., attorney whose representation of a sex abuse victim led to the release of 14,500 pages of Boy Scout documents.
Geoffrey E. Budden, a Newfoundland attorney who has represented hundreds of victims of sexual assault, is assisting Kerr.
One of the plaintiffs still lives in the Buffalo area, another lives in Cayuga and the third lives in St. Louis.
“They all have a number of difficulties with depression and with respect to connecting with other people and dealing with other people,” Kerr said. “One of them has had difficulty with addiction to painkillers.”
Kerr said the men were seeking “some closure” to the traumatic events and “to get some compensation to help pay for treatment.”