Scouts Canada Principles: “More honor’d in the breach than the observance”?

Boy Scout Flag Salute IMG_1363

Image by stevendepolo via Flickr

Horatio:
What does this mean, my lord?

Hamlet:
The King doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swagg’ring up-spring reels;
And as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.
Is it a custom?

Hamlet:
Ay, marry, is’t,
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honor’d in the breach than the observance,

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 7–16

The CBC’s Fifth Estate recently aired a program about Scouts Canada called “Scout’s Honour“. The synopsis reads:

Investigating sexual abuse in Scouts Canada

For young people across North America, Scouting offers fun, adventure and new friendships. But, given the nature of Scouting, the organization sometimes attracts men who prey on children.

In a co-investigation with the Los Angeles Timesthe fifth estate looks at Scouts Canada’s controversial system for recording the names of pedophiles who have infiltrated its ranks and been removed the organization. It was known as the Confidential List.

Host Diana Swain asks the question: have all of those allegations, going back decades, been shared with proper authorities?

The fifth estate‘s groundbreaking investigation follows a very public legal battle in the U.S. where the Boy Scouts of America were forced to reveal that it often did not inform police when allegations of sexual abuse were made.

The Boy Scouts of America has since paid out millions in legal settlements.

In a letter dated October 13, 2011,  Janet Yale, the Executive Commissioner and CEO for Scouts Canada, responding to Timothy Sawa, the Fifth Estate’s program producer, denied the existence of any tracking of pedophiles within the organization, stating:

We note your particular interest in the Boy Scouts of America’s practice of retaining so-called ‘pink files’ or ‘pink folders’ that track incidents, reports or even rumours concerning volunteer leaders. As we have indicated previously, this is a practice that we do not apply in Canada. We do not hold ‘pink files’ for a simple reason: Under our policies, reports of the kind that would trigger a ‘pink file’ would obligate Scouts Canada to invoke suspension and to investigate. In short, we do not monitor volunteer leaders in the face of concerns or complaints. We act. We suspend. And the only records we retain are those that document suspensions and terminations.
There is an old adage: “there are three sides to every story, yours, mine, and the truth.” Yale counters that,
Accordingly, Scouts Canada has established a rigorous set of guidelines and policies when it comes to youth  protection – from a screening process that includes extensive police checks for volunteer leaders to our “suspend first, investigate later” policy when it comes to complaints and to our 2-Leader rule that ensures that, at all group meetings,  activities, trips and outings, Scouts are always accompanied by at least two adult leaders. For your reference, we have attached a summary of these policies.
Sadly, because Scouts Canada is an organization that attracts the involvement of tens of thousands of youth, we are  sometimes targeted for participation by those seeking to exploit or even cause harm. We should emphasize that this  category of person represents the smallest possible percentage of the roughly 23,000 volunteers who deliver Scouts  Canada programs. The overwhelming majority are people of tremendous decency and generosity seeking to help  young people gain critical life and leadership skills. Nevertheless, it is an unfortunate and unpleasant reality that  organizations like ours must confront. Certainly, the concern and regret felt by Scouts Canada toward those who have been victimized in the past is beyond measure. For that reason alone, our youth protection policies are never at rest. 
They are in a state of constant improvement and advancement.  [emphasis added]

The last sentence is telling; the youth protection policies “are in a state of constant improvement and advancement.”

The problem for Scouts Canada goes well beyond transparency. While this youth-oriented not-for-profit organization has been around for over a century, it is now facing heightened scrutiny for alleged child sexual abuse committed by pedophiles within its rank and file.

When were these youth protection policies first put into place? Were parents or guardians notified of these youth protection policies when they allowed their boys to join an organization that potentially had child predators within their midst?  Were these youth protection policies effective?

Well, not according to today’s CBC news story:  Scouts Canada sex settlements kept secret: Confidentiality agreements ‘chilling’ to sex abuse victims, says lawyer. According to the story, the CBC’s investigative unit searched civil court records nationwide and found a total of 24 lawsuits filed against Scouts Canada since 1995. To date, plaintiffs signed confidentiality agreements in 13 of the settled lawsuits.

Why is Scouts Canada so secretive? Clearly Scouts Canada has the financial resources to pay significant sums of money to settle these child sex abuse cases. Even the Vatican has acknowledged abuse within its Catholic Church clergy and has not insisted on confidentiality agreements to this extent. See my previous post: “So You Wanna Sue the Pope?”

Oh, right, it’s all about reputation management and protecting the Scouts Canada Brand:

Seattle-based sex-abuse lawyer Tim Kosnoff says confidentiality agreements are designed with one aim in mind.

“It’s about institutional protection,” said Kosnoff. “This is a multi-billion dollar institution. They have a powerful, valuable brand.”

“[The Boy Scouts] just happen to be in the business of selling an image of wholesomeness and which the American public has accepted.”

Kosnoff, who has represented clients alleging abuse by Scouts, the Catholic Church and other large organizations, says he won’t allow his clients to sign agreements with confidentiality clauses.

“It’s the same immoral behavior led to the abuse in the first instance,” says Kosnoff. “They don’t want to help [victims], they want to silence them forever.”

According to its website, Scouts Canada makes “one simple promise” to Canadian youth, parents and society:

Scouts have fun adventures
discovering new things and experiences
they wouldn’t discover elsewhere.
Along the way they develop into capable,
confident and well-rounded individuals,
better prepared for success in the world.
Scouts is the start of something great.
It starts with Scouts.
The Scout Promise and Law value system reads like any “corporate social responsibility” mission statement:

Principles

Scouting is based on three broad Principles which represent its fundamental beliefs. These include:

  • Duty to God: Defined as, The responsibility to adhere to spiritual principles, and thus to the religion that expresses them, and to accept the duties therefrom.
  • Duty to Others: Defined as, The responsibility to one’s local, national and global community members to promote peace, understanding and cooperation, through participation in the development of society, respect for the dignity of one’s fellow-beings, and protection of the integrity of the natural world.
  • Duty to Self: Defined as, The responsibility for the development of oneself to one’s full potential physically, intellectually, spiritually and socially.
Will Scouts Canada live up to its own lofty set of Principles and answer the call to lift confidentiality clauses on its settlements with victims? Or are the Scouts Canada Principles “More honor’d in the breach than the observance”?

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