Prince Edward Island commune
Charlottetown — Lucille Poulin says she prayed to God before hitting small children with a thick wooden rod — and the Almighty would tell her how many strokes to administer.
The 78-year-old former Roman Catholic nun alternated between evangelical zeal and stern lectures on disciplining children Monday as she testified in her own defence at the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island trial where she faces five charges of assaulting children at a rural PEI commune.
Ms. Poulin, wearing an old-fashioned dress, shawl and bonnet, said she did not want to use the rod to discipline the nine children she cared for and taught on the PEI commune.
But Ms. Poulin, who said she is a prophet and talks to God and receives messages from the Almighty regularly, said that God told her she had to obey the words of the Scriptures about using a rod to correct the behaviour of children to save their souls from hell.
"It isn't easy, but God said to do it," Ms. Poulin said, acknowledging 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 told the court she would hit a child up to 14 times, and that other adults carried out more severe beatings, in which children where hit as many as 39 times.
When asked by her lawyer how she knew how many times to hit a child, Ms. Poulin replied that she would pray about it and God would send her a message.
Ms. Poulin, who spent 31 years as a 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," Ms. Poulin said.
She quoted extensively from the Bible to back up her stance that children should be punished with the rod if they stray into evil ways.
The five children testified that they were afraid of Ms. Poulin, who they accused of whacking children with the rod almost daily for offences such as drawing comical pictures or taking a cookie without permission.
She quoted from the Book of Proverbs that exhorts parents to "chasten the child while there is hope" and that "foolishness is bound in the heart of the child but the rod of correction will drive it far from him."
The case is considered a test of Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada that allows a parent or someone in the role of a parent to use reasonable force in disciplining a child. Ms. Poulin acknowledges that she hit the children with the rod, but said she did not use unreasonable force and was acting on her religious beliefs.
Ms. Poulin said she used the rod on children between the ages of 8 and 14 for offences such as lying about a bed-wetting problem, blaming other children for a messy mud-pie incident, and mocking the former nun when she was reading the Scriptures.
For those offences children had to bend over a chair to be struck as many as 14 times. More severe punishments were meted out by three men in the commune.
The children talked of the pain and weeping that went along with the beatings, but Ms. Poulin said she was never vindictive or angry when she disciplined a child.
She said she would talk to the parents about the problems with the child and then pray to God for guidance before administering the rod.
After the disciplinary session, she said the offending child would often embrace her and she would pray.
"I would have the child lie down and think over what had been done and call on the Lord Jesus for help," she said. "They would get up, and they were as happy as could be."
She said the children had to learn to obey their parents and the rules of the commune so they could grow up to be good citizens and learn to obey God and eventually get into heaven.
"The wrath of God falls on every child of disobedience — it's hell — and if we're obedient it's Heaven," she said. "The child has to wake up and find out what is obedience."
While the children who testified complained of working long hours at the farm and restaurant that was purchased by the commune of nine adults and nine children in 1995, Ms. Poulin said their duties were not onerous and they had lots of time to play.
She acknowledged that if the children were slothful they were forced to miss a meal because the Bible said that anyone who doesn't work would not eat.
Ms. Poulin also said that she had a close, loving relationship with the children and took them on shopping trips and to local parks.
"It was a beautiful relationship of genuine love — no mushy stuff," Ms. Poulin testified. "Because what was flowing through my heart was the love of God."
But what she considered to be a peaceful, simple life filled with work and Bible study at the rural commune was disrupted in 1998 when an older sibling of some of the children came to visit and began talking to them about life outside their tiny community.
Ms. Poulin, who says that she is a born-again Christian and is filled with the spirit of God, said that the devil inspired the older siblings of some of the children to continue to lure them away from the commune. One child died in December, 1999, and in July, 2001, three children fled from the commune.
On July 25 police and PEI social-services officials came to the commune and took the remaining five children. Now only five adults live there.
The trial, entering its third week, continues on Tuesday.