Former nun guilty of beating children

A former nun who ran a strict-discipline commune on Prince Edward Island was convicted Friday of assaulting five children by beating them with a thick wooden rod.

Seventy-eight-year-old Lucille Poulin has testified that she did not want to beat the children, but that God told her she had to follow Biblical strictures about using a rod to correct the behaviour of children to save their souls from hell.

Ms. Poulin, who sang a hymm with her followers before she entered the coutroom, refused to talk to reporters after the verdict was rendered.

Her lawyer, Zia Chisti, said he will ask for a lenient sentence for his 78-year-old client. He said she did not appear disappointement with the decision.

"She said, 'I am happy to do the will of God, and I will suffer the consequences of this,'" Mr. Chisti said.

Crown prosecutor Darrell Coombs said the decision should send a message that beating children for any reason is abuse.

"The decision by Judge Jenkins demonstrates clearly that the courts and administration of justice in this province and probably all Canada will not tolerate criminal activity in the form of abuse against children no matter how it is masked or disguised — and that includes religion," Mr. Coombs said.

In his summation in the PEI Supreme Court, Mr. Coombs called Ms. Poulin's behaviour "an abusive and excessive regime of punishment" . Ms. Poulin's lawyer disagreed, saying that "it was not a rod of anger ... it was a rod of love used for correction.

The Judge sided with the prosecution, saying that Ms. Poulin had not simply spanked the children, she had beaten them. Her force went beyond what is allowed by the Criminal Code, he added.

"She went beyond spanking to beating the children," Justice Jenkins said.

"It isn't easy, but God said to do it," Ms. Poulin had said earlier in the trial, noting that she administered the rod to the five children named in the charges on more than two dozen occasions from October, 1999, to July, 2001. The former nun said she would hit a child up to 14 times, and that other adults carried out more severe beatings, in which children were hit as many as 39 times.

Justice Jenkins said that Ms. Poulin's own evidence indicated that the force used was excessive almost "all the time."

Ms. Poulin, who spent 31 years as a Roman Catholic nun and then became a founding member of a religious commune that began on an Alberta dairy farm in the 1980s and moved to PEI in 1995, said she always admonished the children and warned them that if they didn't change their behaviour they would receive the rod on their buttocks.

"They had to be warned and admonished, sometimes as many as three times, and when they wouldn't listen the rod would come," she testified.

The case is seen as a test of Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which allows a parent or someone acting in the place of a parent to use reasonable force on a child as corrective discipline. Critics argue that the law is wrong to allow behaviour against children that would be illegal if directed against adults.