Assault trial for former nun now under way

Journal-Pioneer/September 17, 2002
By Andy Walker

Charlottetown -- The role of the media was the dominant topic as the trial of a 78-year-old former nun accused of assaulting five children at a religious commune in Fredericton, P.E.I., got under way in Supreme Court Monday. Mr. Justice David Jenkins heard a motion from Zia Chisti, the lawyer for Lucille Poulin, to have the trial closed to the public.

Chisti also wanted a sweeping publication ban, citing concerns about the safety of his client.

He presented a written application from Poulin, in which she expressed concerns about the threat of bodily harm either to herself or witnesses that are scheduled to appear on her behalf.

Last December, two masked men entered the commune in rural Queens County, tied up Poulin and two other women and beat them with sticks.

However, Alan Parish, a media lawyer from Halifax, N.S., who is representing CBC and The Guardian newspaper, argued there was no direct evidence the attack was related to earlier media coverage of activities at the compound.

Chisti also argued a restaurant run by the commune in Fredericton as its major source of income suffered a decline in business anytime there was media coverage of the event.

However, Parish argued there was no financial statement presented to show the decline, and he said the possibility the drop in business was due to other factors can't be discounted.

Parish told Jenkins he was not aware of any publication bans imposed anywhere in the country that would be as all-encompassing as what Chisti was suggesting.

After close to four hours of legal arguments, Jenkins accepted a proposal put forward by Parish that had the backing of Crown lawyer Darrell Coombs.

He ruled the media will not be allowed to report the names of the alleged victims, their parents, nor where they are now living.

The children, aged seven to 12 years, were removed from the commune in July of 2001 by the RCMP and Child and Family Services. None of the children are now living the province.

With the preliminary motions out of the way, the trial got under way in earnest this morning.

Coombs indicated he intends to call the five children and three parents to the stand and indicated their testimony will likely take about a week.

Chisti is also expected to take close to a week to present the defence evidence, and Poulin is expected to testify.

Coombs told the court the two sides have agreed on a joint statement of facts, which he read into the record.

Poulin admitted to using force towards the children between Oct. 1, 1999, and July 25, 2001.

However, she is claiming the protection of Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows a person in authority to use reasonable force to discipline a child.

Poulin has maintained in several media interviews since her arrest the force is justified as a command from God in the Bible.

The Crown lawyer also produced the "rod" that is agreed by both sides to be the way the discipline was administered.

Coombs said both sides agree the main questions Jenkins will have to determine during the trial are whether the discipline was used for corrective purposes and if the force used was reasonable under the circumstances.

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