Former nun to testify in P.E.I. abuse case

Lucille Poulin: Leader of commune charged with assaulting 5 children

National Post /September 30, 2002
By Richard Foot

Charlottetown -- Is Lucille Poulin a crazed and tyrannical child abuser, or is she, as supporters insist, the victim of a conspiracy of lies by a group of disenchanted former followers?

That is the question before Mr. Justice David Jenkins of the Prince Edward Island Supreme Court, who for two weeks has supervised one of the most sensational trials in P.E.I's history.

The case resumes today in this quiet city, where dozens of curious Islanders are expected to vie for seats in Judge Jenkins' court to watch Ms. Poulin take the witness stand and tell her story for the first time.

The 78-year-old former Roman Catholic nun, who leads a small religious commune west of Charlottetown, has been charged with assaulting five of the commune's former children, aged seven to 12, between 1999 and 2001.

Ms. Poulin is the last witness to testify for the defence, after which Judge Jenkins will render a decision. Because no physical evidence of assault has been produced by the Crown -- no medical reports of abuse, no pictures of bruises or bloodied backsides -- his judgment will likely come down to a choice between the testimony of Ms. Poulin's friends and that of her enemies.

In documents filed with the court, Ms. Poulin admits to "strapping" the children with a "rod" -- a homemade, half-metre wooden bat -- but says the Criminal Code allowed her to discipline the children in her care with reasonable force. She also says the strappings were "justified and/or authorized in various passages of the Bible."

The prosecution says the beatings were so frequent and violent they constitute a crime.

The Four Winds commune began in the 1980s in Westlock, Alta., where Ms. Poulin was invited by her adult niece to live on a dairy farm owned by the niece and her husband. Their names, and those of the children, cannot be published under a court order.

Gradually the Westlock family allowed Ms. Poulin to dictate the rules of the home and gain authority over the family's 11 children. Other young adults were drawn to the farm and began getting married and bearing children of their own under Ms. Poulin's direction.

"She was The Prophet," the former dairy farmer has testified. "I was afraid of God, I didn't want to go to hell ... that's why I obeyed her."

By 1995, some of the family's oldest children had left the commune and alerted child welfare authorities in Alberta about alleged physical abuses there. That same year, after an investigation by provincial authorities, the group bid farewell to a handful of its older children, abandoned Alberta and drove across the country to Prince Edward Island. One of the adult members of the commune had allegedly reported seeing the island in a dream.

Ms. Poulin, seven other adults and nine children took over a farmhouse and a neighboring roadside restaurant in Hazel Grove, P.E.I. The group prospered, selling meals in their restaurant, eggs from their farm and wood from their woodlot.

Former members have testified, however, that life became cult-like and severe. The children were home-schooled by Ms. Poulin and made to work long hours in the restaurant. They could not call their parents Mom or Dad. Contact with certain animals was forbidden because, as one child has testified, "dogs and cats were of the devil. We weren't supposed to touch them."

Toboganning in the snow was also outlawed, one child said, because Ms. Poulin believed "we were sliding into hell."

And former members have said Ms. Poulin had a passionate dislike of men. Husbands were generally forbidden from sleeping with their wives, and boys were forced to wear pants with the zippers permanently sewn shut.

By 1997, the group had established a legal trust called the Four Winds Enterprise Communal Trust, ensuring that all property and money owned by its members belonged to the group.

The document contains several pages of religious dogma that says little about the role of women but does state: "There shall be every willing, skillful man for any manner of service, wholly at our commandment."

Children have also testified that Ms. Poulin was obsessed with rat poison, and believe she may have poisoned a 12-year-old boy who died in 1999.

Opposition politicians in P.E.I. have called for an inquest into the boy's death but the provincial government has resisted, pointing to a medical examiner's report that says the child died of a blood disorder.

Two years after his death, the boy's adult siblings in Alberta helped orchestrate the escapes of two other children under the commune's care, an event that precipitated the seizure, by P.E.I. authorities, of the commune's remaining minors.

Five children have described in court savage daily beatings administered by Ms. Poulin. Two fathers who left the group -- who have immunity from prosecution -- have also testified that they beat the children, saying they were brainwashed into doing so by Ms. Poulin.

Buttocks were bruised and bloodied, and sometimes the children blacked out, the witnesses said, during routine sessions with the "rod."

Four adults now remain with Ms. Poulin. One has testified that the prosecution witnesses -- in a deliberate effort to destroy the commune -- were coached into exaggerating the severity of their discipline.

Instead, the commune faithful said, children were fairly punished for breaking household rules, and were not excessively beaten by adults acting out of anger.

At the same time, they admit, children were occasionally hit as many as 39 times with the "rod" -- equivalent to the number of times Jesus was lashed before his crucifixion.

Said one mother, whose unwavering commitment to Ms. Poulin has left her estranged from her 11 children: "The rod is very little hurt compared to eternity in hell."

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