A Surrey man described in court as one of the most prolific sex offenders in Canada faces seven more charges of sexually assaulting young people.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have charged former Anglican priest and scout leader Ralph Rowe with five new counts of sexual assault and two counts of indecent assault.
The charges, laid on April 22 by the OPP North West Region Crime Unit in Thunder Bay, relate to incidents that allegedly occurred in northwestern Ontario between 1973 and 1986 in the First Nations communities of Fort Severn, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Wunnumin Lake and Kingfisher Lake.
Rowe, 72, currently lives in Surrey.
An OPP statement issued Tuesday (May 8) said Rowe was served a summons by an RCMP officer and is scheduled to appear in court in Kenora, Ont. on May 31.
He has been incarcerated twice before, serving more than six years in jail for multiple counts of sex-related crimes involving boys as young as six.
The incidents occurred during the 1970s and 1980s while Rowe was travelling to remote First Nations communities in Manitoba and Ontario to conduct church services and youth events.
Rowe was described by a Crown prosecutor as one of the "most prolific" sex offenders Canada has ever seen.
At his first trial in Kenora, Ontario Superior Court in 1994, Rowe pleaded guilty to 39 counts of indecent assault involving 19 boys and was sentenced to six years.
Under the terms of his plea bargain, Rowe would serve no additional jail time if convicted of other similar offences.
So later in 1994, when Rowe pleaded guilty to molesting three other boys, there was no time added to his sentence because of the plea bargain.
After Rowe served four-and-a-half years of his six-year sentence, he was released on parole.
Rowe left his home in Thompson, Man. and went to live in Surrey, where his older brother, Ernest “Art” Rowe – a retired minister from Fort. St. John – worked as a fill-in minister at St. Michael’s Anglican church in Newton at 12996 60 Ave.
At the time, members of the St. Michael’s congregation remembered Ralph Rowe as a soft-spoken person who maintained a low profile until his brother’s death in 2003.
After that, they said, Rowe began to take a more prominent role, singing with the church choir and occasionally delivering prayers from the front of the church, not as a minister but as a lay member of the church.
The congregation was never formally informed of Rowe’s criminal convictions.
At the time, Canadian police did not routinely notify communities about the presence of a potentially dangerous sexual offender.
However, police and parole officers did know about Rowe’s presence, and so did the local diocese.
Rowe was supposed to avoid contact with young people and to regularly report to the local parole office.
In a 2007 interview with The Surrey-North Delta Leader, Ronald Harrison, executive archdeacon for the Diocese of New Westminster, said steps were taken to limit Rowe’s involvement, especially with children, but the church could not exclude him altogether.
“As Christians, we believe in forgiveness,” Harrison said.
Rowe’s past did not come to light until he was arrested in 2007 on new charges of forcible rape and attempted rape.
He was convicted and sentenced to another three years in jail.
He was released on parole in 2009, one day after he was found guilty on seven new charges – six counts of indecent assault and one count of sexual assault.
At the time, the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario, Alvin Fiddler, said Rowe should have remained in prison because of the new convictions.
However, the Kenora, Ont. Superior Court judge who found Rowe guilty decided he should not serve any more time in prison because the “serial prosecution” of the elderly former priest amounted to a harsh punishment.
- with files from Dan Ferguson