The Spider and the Fly: Kevin Dickman fell prey to a wicked man helped by Peel police
Will you walk into my parlour? said a spider to a fly
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy.
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many pretty things to show when you are there.
Said the cunning spider to the fly, Dear friend, what shall I do,
To prove my warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
Oh no, no! said the little fly, kind sir, that cannot be,
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see.
The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew, the silly fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner, sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the fly
Abridged from The Spider and the Fly—Mary Howitt
We want our grownups to be kindly, honourable, to pay their taxes on time, and observe laws that keep us safe, to work dutifully, donate to just causes, if they can, and raise their children to be responsible adults.
The growing good of the world is dependent on those who live hidden lives and fill their days with “unhistoric acts”. These women and men are eventually laid to rest in “unvisited tombs”.
And yet… there are others who also live hidden lives. They are not noble, but vile.
People like Frank Kohler: ex-police officer, Big Brother, hockey coach, mentor and pastor. Last year, and last week, we also found out he is a self-described reformed pedophile.
The sex offender sat stoically in room 403 of the A. Grenville and William Davis Courthouse in Brampton on Tuesday, as the sentencing phase of his trial was held, after pleading guilty to two charges each of gross indecency for sexually abusing a Brampton schoolboy over a five-year period (1967 to 1972). That’s when he, a Brampton and then Peel Regional policeman, sexually assaulted the boy, Kevin Dickman, from the age of ten.
Frank Kohler next to Kevin Dickman when he coached his hockey team
Kevin was still just a child when he showed incredible courage and resolve, going to the police force for protection and justice. Instead, it buried the accusations and despite a confession from Kohler, let the predator, one of its own, walk away.
Tuesday was a day of passion and pathos and culminated in a long statement of contrition from Kohler, who threw himself on the mercy of the court. It was not the mercy he offered his sexual plaything. Kohler’s counsel asked for a lighter sentence, even a conditional discharge and parole, instead of the five years proposed by the Crown.
There was plenty of legalese thrown around this day between the Crown’s Roger Shallow and defence lawyer Lakin Afolabi. Ontario Superior Court Justice Richard J. LeDressay sat in judgment, then adjourned his decision on sentencing to April 26.
At the end of the session, a recollection of the child’s poem about the Spider and the Fly seemed most appropriate to capture the goings on. Kohler, the spider, was larger, cunning, who spun his silky web of deceit and entrapped the little fly through seduction and manipulation. He was smooth, combining the authority of the uniform with years of learning how to groom young boys as a Big Brother and hockey coach. The ten-year-old Kevin Dickman didn’t stand a chance.
After Kohler’s five years of depravities, he was allowed to flee his job as a police officer and return to his native Nova Scotia, uncharged. By that time, his victim had been eaten alive and then discarded.
Novelist JM Coetzee would describe him like a “fly-casing in a spider-web, brittle to the touch, lighter than rice-chaff, ready to float away.”
The abused boy grew up (physically) and fell into a life of petty crime, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and decades of hostile life on the streets, usually homeless.
Intermittent stays in shelters and temporary housing provided by the agencies left alone to care for society’s discarded souls, were tragically interrupted a couple years ago.
In October of 2019, Kevin’s body was fished out of the murky Don River, bloated, as dead is. Just another nameless, disheveled, unlamented homeless man.
But to his childhood friends back in the Peel Village area of Brampton, Kevin Dickman is lamented to the core.
These ‘Friends of Kevin’ are the kindly types mentioned at the beginning of this story and described so poignantly by Mary Ann Evans (who wrote as George Eliot) in her masterwork, Middlemarch.
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Kevin’s shocking death and the last years of his miserable adult life were captured just as poignantly in a feature story published soon afterward in the Toronto Star by journalist Laurie Monsebraaten. This alerted Kevin’s friends about what happened to their childhood friend.
They had heard rumours about his dissolute life, and some saw a clip of him in a 2005 CBC documentary, long-haired, sad-eyed, sleeping in a nearby park. The feature story was blunt, gut-wrenching, and spoke of his life on the streets, and how he had been abused. It provided the dark backing needed to describe why he suffered such an ignoble death at age 61.
Fifty-one-years after the spider laid its trap, the torture was too much for the fly. Kevin finally broke free from his casing and floated away.
The friends who had lost touch with him and his life, vowed to dignify him in death.
A fund was set up to buy a headstone for his pauper’s grave in Pickering. They would also raise funds for a tree to be planted in a Peel Village park. Another group spun out of the first one, ‘Justice for Kevin’. It promised to find his oppressor and make him pay for his horrid crimes.
His best friend from high school was the first person Kevin told about the sexual assaults by Frank Kohler, known to the Peel Village kids as Frank the Narc. The other was Pam Hand, now a retired Peel police officer who worked, in an unfortunate coincidence, with the sex crimes unit.
There was something sadly helpful about all this. She had the perfect training to hunt down Kohler in Nova Scotia. When she talked to him over the phone, she knew what questions to ask, the tone to take, the answers she hoped to hear. But Kohler was contrite, vague, guarded. She pressed him about his “friendship” with Kevin. Her anger mounted as Kohler clammed up and was unwilling to admit anything. He never, however, denied anything. Hand left off making it clear to the monster that his days as a free man were numbered.
No one will ever know if Kohler came forward fearing that silence could lead to jail time, whereas a confession might spare him.
The call from Hand unnerved him, flushed him out, and he immediately went to a nearby detachment of the RCMP to confess his crimes, now over 50 years old. A guilty plea to multiple charges followed, and the long arc of justice, as Dr. King assured, seemed to be bending toward a satisfying conclusion.
Tuesday was the first time Kohler was in a Brampton courtroom since he left for Nova Scotia at age 29.
The scene was surreal, Kafkaesque, because of COVID-19 restrictions. There was limited room for observers, and plexiglass dividers protected the small gathering from the staffers. Everyone was distanced and masked up. The one Kohler wore was real, not the metaphorical one he chose to hide behind as a police officer and a Big Brother during his reign of terror in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Kohler is 75 now, and not the monster many expected to see, grizzled by the shocking crimes he has confessed to. He looked every inch the dignified senior citizen: clean shaven, a lovely shock of snow-white hair, and nattily attired – grey sport jacket, well-tailored; blue shirt, well-pressed; and matching tie, neatly knotted.
What you would expect for the performance of a lifetime.
He arrived with an entourage: his wife of 45 years, one of his two sons in his mid-40s, plus other supporters from his home in Nova Scotia where he had spent much of his life. His glittery CV included a near 20-year role as pastor at the Lake Echo Fellowship Baptist Church, then a stint as regional director for a group of evangelical churches until 2019.
Kohler claimed he had confessed his past sex crimes to an executive of the Church, and one is on record calling the former pastor one of the finest men he has ever met.
Kevin Dickman, bottom left corner, in his school yearbook
We know how the minds of criminals work. Sexual predators are often driven by the need to “conquer” another’s body. The power and control and perceived affirmation of the criminal’s desirability are all part of the pathology these monsters operate under. Their conquest is usually visited upon someone the predator likes for any number of reasons.
“When I think of Kevin I think of that wonderful kid who loved to hang around with me, to go places, water skiing, travelling, being with groups of friends.”
This was part of Kohler’s statement Tuesday, before the judge. He was trying to convey remorse. Did he actually betray what it was about Kevin that made the boy a target for the monster who had to possess and conquer him?
No one, not Justice LeDressay, not Kohler’s wife and not all of his new charges at the Church, will ever know what is in this monster’s mind. He might not even know.
Here is what we do know: Kevin Dickman was destroyed at the age of 10 and lived a tortured life for 51 years before he committed the ultimate act of release.
Fortified by all the love and support of his entourage, Kohler stood before Justice LeDressay and unpacked his life, from his homosexual tendencies and experimentation as a teen, to his move to Toronto and how he joined the old Brampton police force. He talked about being a Big Brother, which led him to Dickman. His voice quavered, he got teary-eyed, and the words that came from his mouth settled on the courtroom like a misty summer fog. He used “haunted” to describe how he felt his actions had impacted on his child-victim. He admitted to contributing to Kevin’s “downward slide in life”.
His lawyer already told the court his client had owned up to his actions and has shown genuine remorse for what he had already pled guilty to. He was old, a first-time offender, and an ex-police officer (as if this shouldn’t carry a higher burden). He deserved the mercy of the court. Do you know what they do to ex-cops and sex offenders in jail?
We already know what pedophiles do to children they trap. They hold them hostage. They rape them repeatedly. This seemed to mitigate his argument.
Kohler imprisoned Kevin for five years and offended him repeatedly. There was no escape for him, no chance for parole. While Kevin lived in his own depraved and dirty prison for the rest of his years, Kohler picked up in Nova Scotia like a company executive moving in for a sweet promotion.
In the aftermath of this serial abuse, Kohler was allowed to escape, uncharged. Kevin quickly slid into a lifetime of drug and alcohol use, petty crime and mental illness and homelessness.
Kohler said Tuesday, “My life went up, his life went down to the depths.”
How could a man who found the cloth, not come forward all those years? How did he preach and sermonize to the good people sitting in the Church pews all those years, about compassion for their fellow human, about repentance and the misery of living in sin?
He lived a privileged life of sin. Kohler hid his Satanic behaviour. He stood in a house of God. An imposter. Why didn’t he come forward decades ago?
Why didn’t he save Kevin Dickman, the one soul he truly touched?
Pam Hand countered Kohler’s claims in her own written statement; you could almost feel the ineffable contempt: “He stole Kevin’s youth, his innocence, his trust, his entire soul.”
Kohler said he was foolish and a bit naive when he joined Big Brothers in 1966 and he wasn’t looking for sexual gratification when he became Dickman’s mentor. He wasn’t a predator, and besides, it was almost a year or so before the fondling started. Apparently, he “hated” himself for doing this, but not enough to quit, and he continued doing it, and much worse, for the next four years – paralleling the sentence the Crown was hoping to get from the Justice.
While some might sympathize with Kohler the old man, the husband and father, imagine how any parent of a ten-year-old child would feel. Imagine your own son or daughter, unaware their innocent, untouched body, was about to be raped and their beautiful young mind was about to be destroyed by a monster.
Can anyone imagine Kohler walking free for what he did to that innocent young boy?
The Crown said the distance of time between the offences and 2021, doesn’t mitigate the horror of the crimes.
A clever lawyer might have invoked the famous quote by William Faulkner: “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”
Kohler’s lawyer argued the clergyman came voluntarily to confess his crimes, and later, in a conversation with The Pointer, Hand reminded everyone that when she confronted him over the phone, he volunteered nothing. He only went to the police later, after it was clear he’d been found out.
The presentations of the lawyers, and the testimony was being documented by a large contingent of media, lined up and listening via Zoom. This added a further feeling of disembodiment to the proceedings.
Hand, who was in the courtroom said she had trouble following Kohler’s presentation, having heard these types of confessionals before in her job with the sex crime unit.
Instead, she kept focusing on her young friend, the innocent boy she knew from the Peel Village parks. She said all she could see was a little boy, overwhelmed by the strapping man in his mid-20s, wearing a policeman’s uniform, the Sam Browne belt running across his chest, the tunic, the hat, the boots, the police insignia on his shoulder.
The spider lures the frightened fly into his sticky web, then paralyzes him with his venom. This creates the ultimate mismatch. Pedophilia 101 is simple: identify the weakest in the crowd (Kevin was adopted, his father had just died) then groom him for the ultimate assault. Use wooing words that are as old as sex abuse itself. It’s unclear when he forced Kevin to see what no child should. To do what no child should. But in her interview with The Pointer after Tuesday’s hearing, Hand pointed out that the sexual abuse Kevin suffered through wasn’t a one-off, but sustained, heightening in intensity and depravity. “It lasted for five years,” she said. “FIVE F-----G years!”
The fact Kohler was a Peel police officer, a profession and an institution she would one day join, disgusts her more. He besmirched his badge and his oath of office, just as he would do to the Church years later. Was this a predictable pattern? A man drawn to positions of authority, control. Someone who hid his contempt for the justice his first employer was supposed to embody, and showed none of the compassion demanded by his second calling.
Former Peel police officer Pam Hand
Hand is too street smart to be fooled. She has seen too much. She worked in a department that was determined to stop people like Kohler from acting on their sick impulses, and she was trained to pick apart their lies and criminally genius efforts to deceive, once they were finally caught. Kohler’s life and his testimony literally made her sick to her stomach.
She says she is now fearful Kohler will escape justice once again, as if his accomplishments following his half-decade sexual assault of a boy should be mitigating factors in a lighter sentence.
She vows that if Kohler gets the sweetheart sentence proposed by his lawyer, which includes probation and a get-out-of-jail-free card, then justice is a joke, and Kevin’s life and death were like a shell, something to be separated from the being inside and shucked aside.
She remembers her time as a young officer in a Brampton courtroom when Kevin was brought before the judge for a petty crime. She was no longer the child that used to play with him. Hand was a professional, an officer of the law. Kevin seemed frozen in time, encased in the silky tomb that ensnared him. There were rumours about Frank the Narc but she had not known what happened to Kevin.
She was struck by how he looked, how his life had tumbled down, how he pleaded with the judge for help. He had been abused by a Peel police officer, he said, and he needed help. His asks went unanswered. She still admonishes herself for not standing up for him then, and that’s why she was in court Tuesday, and will be back again in late April.
She said Kohler “should get what is coming to him.”
The retired officer who now uses her skills in the private sector, is contemptuous of her former employer, Peel police, not the rank and file, but the institution, the old boys’ network that permeates its culture.
This is part of its DNA, there since inception in 1974. Not bringing justice to Kevin’s abuser set an early tone to a force that is one of the worst in Canada. A two-part 2018 series in The Pointer, deftly laid out the multitude of charges that have been brought against officers in the third-largest municipal police force in the nation and the deeply disturbing rate of misconduct among its uniform staff.
During a five-year period from 2010, about 640 of the 2,000-strong force had been disciplined for misconduct – by far the worst stats of any major force in Ontario.
The Pointer revealed charges laid against some of its officers including sexual abuse (even of female coworkers) theft, perjury, fraud, assaulting civilians, and more.
In 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray stopped a trial after ruling that Peel police vice officers had misled the court, falsifying evidence in a case involving human trafficking and pimping. The charges against the defendant were thrown out, because "the state actors, the police, have been prepared to fabricate a case," Gray wrote in his decision. The actions of the Peel officers who tried to deceive the court were "an affront to decency and fair play," he said.
"It would be difficult to conceive of conduct that would more distinctly shock the conscience of the community than a fabrication of evidence by the police."
A year later, Justice Deena Baltman, of the same court, addressed conduct by Peel drug squad officers in another case that could be described as even more shocking.
"The police lied under oath in order to cover up (an) illegal search and persisted in their lying when confronted with the most damning of evidence," Baltman stated in her reasons for sparing the defendant jail time in a drug trafficking case.
Referring to the attempted cover-up by Peel officers, the judge said, "All these misdeeds were calculated, deliberate and utterly avoidable." Peel officers had "colluded and then committed perjury, en masse," she said, adding: "The police showed contempt not just for the basic rights of every accused but for the sanctity of a courtroom."
Critics of Peel police said problems with the force went to the very top, to disgraced former chief Jennifer Evans and her predecessor Mike Metcalf. As Andre Marin, former Ombudsman of Ontario and former head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which investigates police-involved injuries and deaths, once said about the Peel force: "The fish rots from the head down."
A headline over a Toronto Star editorial a few years ago read: “Something is rotten in the Peel Region Police Service.”
Did the rot set in from the very beginning?
Hand reminded that when Big Brothers went to the force’s top brass with serious concerns about the conduct of officer Kohler, and his relationship with Little Brother Kevin, the investigation fell to William Teggart who would later rise to chief (he passed away in 2019). Not only did he get a confession from Kohler in the ‘70s, Kevin, in a show of unimaginable courage, had laid out the long-term sexual assault by one of Peel police’s own.
Hand charges that Kohler attempted to convince Kevin not to testify, a clear obstruction of justice. If true, that charge should have been laid on him too by the courts.
As it turned out, Teggart and the force buried the entire file, hid the evidence and let Kohler walk away, scot-free.
Any wonder why a cancerous culture dominated the institution for decades.
In 2019, a new chief was finally brought in by the new police board members to clean out the rot, after decades of apathy among the well-connected old boys who were supposed to govern the toxic police department.
What happened between the man and boy, and put it into the police report handled by the officer who would become chief of the force, will never be known because the materials have been lost.
In Kohler’s mea culpa on Tuesday, he even seemed mystified by his good fortune in dodging justice all those decades ago. He said, “I resigned from the police department that day and they let me walk.”
Peel police excuse the lost evidence because of a retention schedule and the amalgamation of the different forces. This caused records to disappear. The good news, said the police, is things have tightened up today, and now the SIU (Special Investigation Unit) can keep a tight lid on any misdeeds of the sworn officers. The force is confident this oversight is more rigorous now than 1974, although that doesn’t quite jibe with the statistics that were laid out in stark detail in The Pointer’s two-part series, and subsequent stories.
This is a force whose union head, a constable named Adrian Woolley, who speaks on behalf of the entire department, was convicted of drunk driving in 2019 after hurtling like a wayward missile going 174 km/h down the QEW with a blood alcohol count 50 percent over the legal limit.
This alarming disregard for public safety and respect for the law seems to be rewarded by a culture that has elevated people like Woolley, instead of throwing them out in disgrace.
The force didn’t serve and protect Kevin Dickman or help him get the justice he deserved. It did not put behind bars the man who abused him while he was wearing the force’s uniform.
The man who was supposed to help, ignored Kevin’s suffering and was rewarded with the chief’s badge.
Does the force’s rather blasé response to Kevin Dickman’s case allow it to hide what the actions represent: crimes against him and the community?
Hand can’t get her head around the institution she proudly represented for 30 years, the one charged with protecting society’s most vulnerable, especially its children. How could an admitted pedophile be allowed to resign and escape to Nova Scotia, uncharged? Imagine letting loose an admitted serial pedophile today, and not warning the community he settles into of his past criminal behaviour?
What would former chief Teggart have said to the parents of a Nova Scotia child had Kohler molested him or her?
Every member of the force involved in the cover-up should have been thrown in jail. How many other cover-ups have there been?
And what is the new chief, Nishan (Nish) Duraiappah, doing to clean up decades of rot? Is he planning any kind of apology for what the force did to Kevin Dickman? How about a donation to the groups organizing to properly memorialize one of Brampton’s forgotten souls?
Hand still seethes with indignation, and Kohler’s testimony on Tuesday left her unmoved. His admittance that he and his wife returned to Ontario sometime in the 1980s, and went to Division 22 to ask the inspector on duty, Ewen MacDonald, if he could arrange for him to meet with Kevin. Kohler told the court he wanted to apologize, to make “amends.” The inspector “told us not to pursue this idea, that it may be dangerous for us to do so,” said Kohler, his voice and tone again seeming to suggest he was once more mystified by the force’s indifference.
This assumes Kohler was telling the truth. We will never know. The officers have either passed away or retired long ago. The records were either destroyed or sit hidden in a dark closet.
If Kohler was telling the truth, not once, but twice, Peel police had a chance to do the right thing for Kevin, and for those who believe in the sacred tenets of criminal prosecution.
The Peel police force has acknowledged the tragic events faced by Mr. Dickman and his family, and the effects that this had on him and them.
But it still has not discussed the effects ignoring its sworn duty has had on the force itself.
Throughout his adult life, Kevin Dickman insisted he was abused by a policeman, and no one in authority believed him. He told his counsellor, Paula Tookey, repeatedly this injustice over their 30 years together. She was also viewing the proceedings on Zoom Tuesday, and had filed a victim’s statement, telling of her dealings with Kevin, the heartbreak and impact that his life on the streets had on her.
She told The Pointer Kevin lived every moment of his life with the abuse, and felt pained by the fact he wasn’t believed by the police, the courts, even his family. Carrying Frank’s degradation of his body and soul as he walked the streets was a heaviness he couldn’t overcome. He heard voices. He couldn’t leave the abuser disguised in a police uniform in the past, he got stuck, like that fly in the spider’s web.
Tookey said Kevin would have liked that the truth was finally out, the he was now believed. But she was sad it didn’t come in time to save his life, to keep him from the cold waters of the Don. They acted as a purifier to stop that voice in his head. They washed away Frank Kohler.
His life was messy, but “Kevin would have been happy if he had been validated by the courts. He didn’t think it would ever happen,” she said.
“Peel police put Kevin in that water [Don River] as much as Frank Kohler did,” Hand tells The Pointer.
Kevin Dickman in a 2005 CBC feature
She continues: “Kevin comes down from up north to tell the police, to lay the complaint, to tell them what Frank did. He tells his story. And Frank walks? Why? He abused him for five years then left him like he was a piece of garbage.”
The police had multiple chances to do the right thing, to charge one of theirs with the most outrageous of crimes, and they took a pass?
“It could have been so different for him if they had done something, given him guidance.
“As a police officer, this bothers me so much. It was always about protecting the old boys’ network [at Peel Police]. Do anything, but don’t tarnish the brand, the image. They had this new name, Peel Regional Police. They should be sued for negligence.”
She jumped on Kohler for telling the court he made a mistake.
“A mistake is losing your car keys, not five years of abusing a child!”
She wasn’t finished. “Kevin didn’t have to die. He was savable. Before he met Frank, he had a mom, a sister, a home, a community, we lived in the best place, Peel Village. Frank stripped him of all of that. And he walks?”
Hand spent her career hunting down the bad people, the pedophiles. They fit an archetype. They targeted the weak, the vulnerable; they looked for pre-pubescents: starting at the age of 10. Young boys were perfect, before they filled out into manhood. Young, clean, perfect.
Frank Kohler was cold and calculating. He knew exactly what he was hunting. What he wanted to conquer.
She largely ignored Kohler’s confessional in court. She thought Kevin’s story was the only thing of importance.
Why does our society so easily forget the victims?
There was also silence from Peel Police. They didn’t issue a statement. No apology was offered. No word on how they move forward to right a horrible wrong. No taking responsibility for what they had allowed, how one of the their own got off scot-free. No responsibility has been taken for the risk they put other children in. Kohler swears there were no other victims after he walked away from the charges that were never even laid. We might never know if this is true.
Hand’s voice rose and fell in her interview with The Pointer: “I’m so disappointed in Kohler’s presentation,” she said. “There was too much weight put on what he’s done with his life. Frank turned his life around. Who cares. Kevin is dead!”
She said her former employer should be charged with neglect of duty. She said the force should be sued, like other institutions that have been found complicit or unresponsive to sexual abuse.
The former 30-year officer of the force says Peel police “has blood on its hands. They tarnished the badge. It’s disgusting. It’s corrupt.”
She bristles when told that the defence is asking for a conditional discharge and probation. “Are you kidding me?”
She thinks Kohler got found out. “Even his family doesn’t trust him,” she says.
As for his atonement, finding his saviour, and repentance, she is having none of it.
“They [predators] just don’t stop. A saint since he found God? He raped a child! For five years!”
She was asked about the Peel police motto of serve and protect.
“Who protected Kevin? They serve their own. I knew from the beginning [Tuesday] was not going to be about Kevin, or what happened to him."
She doesn’t care that Kohler had an entourage of supporters, of letters commending him on his new life. She admitted he looks the part of the gracefully aging elder: tall, clean cut. “It might be different if he was scraggly” – if he looked like Kevin.
“His wife was there, so what? Where’s Kevin? What Peel police did was vile, a hideous neglect of duty. As for Frank, yeah, it’s okay to have sex with a kid while you’re a cop. Yeah, he turned his life around. Yeah, look at me. Wow.”
She’s petrified his courtroom confessional will not fall on deaf ears, but welcoming ones. Justice delayed isn’t justice denied, it’s just justice. It’s like Faulkner’s take on the past. Time is a river. A crime is a crime; it doesn’t matter if it happened in 2021 or 1969.
The Kevin Dickman story touched many, not just his childhood friends. Another man who suffered sexual abuse (his at the hands of a Catholic priest) was in the courtroom, drawn to Kevin’s story in the media.
Bob McCabe, 69, is a Guelph man who runs a charitable organization called Recovery Speaking that helps those like him who were abused, need help, need to talk to a been-there, done-that voice.
In the summer of 1963, McCabe, an 11-year-old from Scarborough, was abused by Father Alphonse Robert, associate pastor at St. Lawrence parish in Scarborough. The abuse took place in a motel in Cornwall, after a year of grooming in the church hall, the sacristy and the main body of the Church.
Bob McCabe outside the hotel where he was sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest
Father Robert visited his home on numerous occasions, had tea with his mother, chatted for hours about religion. His approach was silky, like a spider slowly constructing its web. The abuse took place in a strange city, in a motel with a man who represented God, and all the power and holiness that implied.
McCabe didn’t know what to do. He retreated inside himself, let it happen. “I just pretended to remain asleep as he continued to perform sex acts on me. I tried not to move, or to breathe too loud, and I experienced a level of fear and impending doom as I had never felt or experienced it before. I played Possum.”
His story is chilling, but oft-told, and only happened once – which to anyone who has been abused, knows is a thousand times too many.
He believes Kevin played possum for five years, and probably for the rest of his life.
McCabe’s life unspooled like Kevin’s. He slept under bridges, stole food, lost himself in alcohol. Married and divorced three times. Ruined the lives of his three kids. Couldn’t hold a job. Was angry, enraged, lashed out at anyone who dared get close. The lowest low came in 2010, in an apartment in Guelph. He had a knife and the window open, and wanted to kill himself, but didn’t have the guts to cut his throat, or jump out the window. He eventually found Alcoholics Anonymous, went through the 12-step program, and stopped at the part about forgiveness.
He wrote an eight-page note about forgiving and read it over the grave of his abuser. He remarried, has been alcohol free for years, and even won a $500,000 settlement for the sexual abuse. He has tried to make amends for his past mistakes, has paid back all the debts he owned society as a deadbeat dad, and runs his charity with an impressive program to help others. It has a sterling board of directors.
When he came across Kevin’s story he found Pam Hand’s number, and was in the courtroom Tuesday.
He can’t imagine Kevin’s abuse, the length of his suffering, and how he managed to survive as long as he did. “He must have had great resilience,” he says.
He believes Kevin was savable. It would have helped if he was believed, and his abuser brought to justice earlier. He can’t imagine how the abuse cut into his self-worth. He spoke to The Pointer for over an hour, talking about how only the abused know what it’s like to wallow in the depths of this level of despair.
He believes that if the institutions responsible for his plight, especially the police, had helped him heal, he could have become “a warrior for change,” as many men have.
McCabe has been on the CBC talking about his life, how it is now dedicated to helping others, and how those who abuse, and the institutions they represent, should literally pay for what they did to victims.
His motto: Forgive the person, not the action.
When Kohler spoke on Tuesday, he was enraged again, but now he has the coping mechanisms to calm himself.
“The abuse never goes away, and there are times when these emotional upsurges happen out of the blue. When Kohler talked, I wanted to get up and slap him with a hockey stick. But now I have the ability to fight it. I didn’t have that within me before; it has to be developed.”
Some abuse victims, the lucky ones, find ways to quiet the voices in their heads, and half-fill the emptiness in their hearts. McCabe’s first method of choice was alcohol. Kevin chose a cocktail of products, if he could afford them, and stole them when he couldn’t, just to survive.
McCabe said there are too many Kevins, and through AA, he has met many like him, those who drink to hide the trauma of sexual abuse.
But Kevin’s story is also unique, one of the most compelling incidences of both individual and institutional abuse in Canada. “Tuesday’s court proceedings have opened up a Pandora’s Box for Peel police services,” he says.
“They have to be held accountable,” he adds. “It’s way too late for an apology. Now, words have to be matched by action.”
Unless Kohler pays a real price for his “sins” and unless Peel police also face serious financial repercussions for their negligence, and systemic inaction, nothing will ever change, he says.
“You don’t drive down a street, weave off the road, knock down a mailbox, and then tell the owner of the house, ‘I’m sorry,’" explains McCabe.
“You stop and pay the homeowner for a new mailbox!”
He used his settlement to right wrongs he committed, but never blamed his abuse for his own actions. He believes Kohler and Peel police must do the same.
Kevin won’t reap the rewards, but creating a program or a halfway house to help the abused or homeless in his name will go a long way to giving his life and death some meaning.
Actions lead to consequences, and these fiscal payouts can be the catalyst to help other children who are now going through what Kevin suffered.
McCabe said sexual abuse is a weight that society must bear, and notes that one in four women, and one in six men are victims.
The power of the police, or other institutions like churches, schools, sports leagues, and community associations to fix their own culture, is the best way to ensure positive outcomes for victims of sexual abuse.
Various levels of government are welcome partners, but they can do little in the face of powerful, systemic and influential organizations committed to their own protection.
McCabe concludes by stating: “Kohler and the police were murderous in their actions.”
The last word must go to Paula Tookey, manager of consumption and treatment services, South Riverdale Community Health Centre.
She was Dickman’s closest friend for the last 30 years of his life. Like Hand, she still struggles to find the right words to describe the utter sadness she feels for Kevin, an intermittent client.
This immigrant from the Czech Republic has lived a life of self-abnegation, putting other’s needs ahead of her own. She has ridden the Kevin Dickman rollercoaster to the highest highs and the depths of despair. She told the Pointer that at the end of his life he was too tired, too rung out by homelessness, too lonely, too doom-laden to survive another winter on the streets.
Kevin Dickman with Paula Tookey
He hated to be dirty and homeless and a burden on others. He couldn’t quiet the voices in his head. He could never pull himself free of the web Frank Kohler had so cleverly constructed.
The more he tried to pull free, the more encased he became.
The system and the institutions that should have saved him, or at least helped him, the police and the courts, let him down, miserably. His cries for help went unanswered. He always distrusted those who wore a police uniform, and there should be no one on this planet reading this story, that should wonder why.
Tookey said all forward motion in his life seemed to stop at age 10, the year Kohler picked him out from all the other children.
When he laid out the evidence against his molester and it was ignored by Kohler’s bosses, he became unmoored, and was left to roam the streets, alone, abandoned to the core.
Kohler awaits his sentence.
Kevin long ago suffered his.
He lived a life of poverty, detox centres, sleeping on piss-stained mattresses, drugs, alcohol, jail and mental hospitals, death by drowning, and a pauper’s grave on a site far removed from his beloved Peel Village.
The Friends of Kevin are decent folks who lived their lives the right way. They observed the laws, they paid their taxes, they gave money to charity, and they loved their kids unequivocally. They didn’t understand the cruel truths about their friend’s life until he died. Then it made their insides feel empty – and they took action.
So, Kevin gets his headstone. They will plant his tree, and on the base, they will attach a plaque with his name and the dates of his birth and death.
It’s something, but not nearly enough.
You see, in this world, spiders are bigger, and more cunning than flies. The webs they weave are nearly impossible to see. The poor souls they capture are doomed. Like Kevin Dickman.
Submit a correction about this story