Skip to content

Former priest convicted of sex crimes against Yukon boys decades ago

David Norton’s defence did not cross-examine the victims leading to a quick conviction
33030749_web1_230531_YKN_NEWS_Penner_appeal600_1
The Yukon Territorial Court will sentence David Norton, a former Anglican priest, for sex crimes against a pair of Yukon boys in the 1980s. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

The following story contains details which some readers may find distressing. Rapid access counselling is available in the Yukon at 867-456-3838.

In a brief trial that could not have been more one-sided, former Anglican Priest David Norton has been found guilty of sexual offences against two Yukon boys in the 1980s. In a turn of events that even territorial court judge Micheal Cozens remarked was highly unusual, the defence waived its opportunity to cross-examine either alleged victim after they had detailed Norton’s illegal sexual acts towards them in court on June 13 and 14.

With nothing in the witnesses’ testimony challenged or contradicted by the defence and with Norton’s lawyer Kevin Drolet acknowledging convictions would be appropriate based on the evidence the court heard, Cozens promptly made findings of guilt on all six charges. Norton, now 77 years old, will be convicted and sentenced based on two sexual interference charges. The court will reconvene for sentencing on Friday, June 16, after the News’ print deadline.

Norton observed the proceedings by video conference from a correctional facility in Ontario, where he is serving 13 years for two other convictions of sex crimes against young people. He spoke only when asked to confirm he could hear and understand what was going on. Media reports from Ontario and in Anglican Church publications suggest Norton has been convicted for crimes committed in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Norton’s victims in the Yukon and at least some in Ontario were Indigenous.

The about-face made by the defence — from proceeding to trial under a not-guilty plea to contesting nothing being alleged— became apparent following testimony from the older of the two victims. In deeply emotional testimony, the victim, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, described how Norton befriended the victims’ family shortly after arriving in Whitehorse.

The court heard that the newly-arrived priest, whose ministry focused on First Nations people, took the victims on as altar boys and also included them in a range of non-church activities. The boys’ parents were described to the court as distracted by work, caring for a very sick child and other matters, meaning they were happy to have their sons spend time with Norton. The boys soon began spending nights in Norton’s care at the church rectory where he lived, at the accommodations provided for clergy at other Yukon churches, and on camping and cabin trips.

On the witness stand, both victims described nights spent at the rectory as the centre of the sexual abuse. Both said Norton’s bedroom had foamies on the floor, which he would sleep on clad only in underwear with both victims and sometimes other boys as well. They described these sleepovers occurring more than once a week at their peak. The younger victim said by the end of Norton’s first winter in Whitehorse, he could have access to the victims at any time based on the trust he had accrued with their parents.

Both victims recounted Norton touching them, including beneath their underwear, and also masturbating to completion while laying next to and sometimes touching them. This would often begin as the victims were sleeping, but the court heard that each victim woke up to find it happening numerous times.

Both also reported feelings of shame associated with what was happening to them and difficulty forming trusting relationships later in life.

The witnesses described a break in this routine when Norton married. He and his new wife separated within months, and the union was annulled shortly thereafter.

The Yukon boys made their first trip to Ontario in the company of other family members for Norton’s wedding. However, they would return to Ontario to spend time alone with Norton. The older victim didn’t recall any illegal touching while on the Ontario trips but said the potential was there as they still slept in the same bed. He also described a trip to the Bahamas with Norton but said he couldn’t recall any abuse then.

Both men’s testimony showed conflicted feelings towards Norton.

“He had a good way of making you feel special,” the younger victim said.

“He made everyone feel like they were his favourite.”

The older victim described seeing Norton as a role model, trying to spend as much time with him and feeling abandoned when Norton left the territory.

Both described how their relationship with Norton afforded them things and positive experiences, such as recreational activities and trips out of the territory, that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They described Norton as close enough to be like family.

“We had to make some sacrifices, and nighttime is when those sacrifices happen,” the younger victim recalled.

The court heard about the Yukon victims’ decision to come forward after hearing about the allegations against Norton from media reports about other victims in Ontario. The Yukon charges against Norton were filed less than a year ago.

“To this day, I still feel like I’m friends with the guy. But I was eight years old at the time,” the older victim said.

He went on to tell the court that after all these years, he forgives Norton.

The younger victim echoed the feelings of the older victim in his own testimony. He said he didn’t harbour bad feelings towards Norton and could easily talk about the good times they shared.

Before adjourning court for the day, Cozens commented on the “decent humanity” shown in the victims’ testimony.

Following the conclusion of the June 14 court session, a private conversation between the victims and Norton was requested. Cozens granted the request, ordering everyone else out of the courtroom as the video link remained live.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com



Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
Read more