Lucille Poulin, the commune leader and former nun who beat children with a paddle believing it would save them from hell, was jailed Thursday for eight months by a judge clearly moved by the suffering she inflicted.
"These children were born into this environment. They were in captivity.
"They took the punishment and they had nowhere to turn," P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice David Jenkins said. "They were left alone in a regime of fear and frequent violence."
The radical evangelical sect got its start 18 years ago, on a dairy farm just outside Westlock, Alta., 75 kilometres north of Edmonton. Poulin, her followers and their children moved to Prince Edward Island in 1995, after social workers in Alberta won a supervision order, giving them the right to monitor the care of the children on the commune.
The 78-year-old self-professed prophet of the tiny commune near Summerside, P.E.I., did not visibly react to Thursday's verdict, but reached over to hug supporters -- including the mother of three of the young victims.
Poulin instructed her lawyer not to file an appeal.
"She said, 'It is the will of God and I will bear whatever comes upon me,' " said defence lawyer Zia Chishti, who had urged the court to show leniency.
But the judge rejected that plea, pointing to a pattern of repeated violence and the need to send a message to others that such child abuse will not be tolerated. In addition to the jail sentence, he handed her three years of probation during which she cannot care for or live with children under the age of 12.
Testimony during the trial painted life at the commune as rife with abuse -- children would be struck with the paddle for any number of infractions, some so minor as to be inescapable: laughing, sneaking a cookie, even falling asleep.
"At night when I went to bed, I was always in fear that Lucille would use the rod to wake me up," one girl testified. "I never trusted Lucille and I never will."
None of the children or their parents can be named by a judge's order.
The trial portrayed life at the commune as an austere one where children grew up with little or no exposure to the outside world. In a victim impact statement, one boy told how after leaving the commune he did not know what a movie was nor did he know how to play sports such as soccer or football.
One 12-year-old boy who had surreptitiously hooked up a telephone in his room was kicked out of the commune and sent to Alberta on a bus by himself.
For the most part, it was Poulin who was the disciplinarian and meted out the beatings or yanked an ear so hard that the skin cracked and bled. Sometimes she would have one of the men administer the hits if she felt hers would not be powerful enough.
No charges have been laid against anyone else at the commune, but Crown attorney Darrell Coombs told reporters afterwards that would now be considered.
"All aspects of it will be reviewed and we will be looking at the possibility of other charges," he said.
"But I am mindful of the judge's comments that Ms. Poulin was clearly the principal guiding force behind these beatings, and that will reflect on my decision."
He was pleased by the sentence, calling it "fit and proper" punishment.
Meanwhile, Poulin is clearly unrepentant -- so much so that the judge decided counselling would be of no use.
In a dramatic address to the court before she was sentenced, Poulin said she was simply following God and would comply with whatever punishment she is given "without rebellion, bitterness or any kind of retaliation."
She made it clear she had no regrets, that God has made it clear that she should not fear judgment.
"I want to say at this point that the blood of those children are not on my hands anymore," Poulin said in a steady, firm voice. "I thank God that I have been faithful to the mandate God gave me.
"I chose to abide in His word. And He said if you continue in my word, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," she said.
"He is my beloved, and I am in love with Him, and I want to obey God rather than man."
She told the judge that she and others at the commune have prayed for him every day and that one day everyone will face the "eternal judge" to answer for what they have done.
"Regardless what happens to me, I know in whom I believed, and He hath (kept) that soul of mine from hell," she said.
"I may mention here that in no way before God I have failed the trust the parents have given me in dealing with those children. God knows. That's all that is important, as far as I am concerned," she said.
"Everyone will answer for what they do and say. I go free with the joy of the Lord in my heart."
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