David Dewees, Grief and Libel

by Brian Walsh

On Saturday, October 2 a young man named David DeWees ended his life on the subway tracks at High Park Station in Toronto. David had been charged with two counts of sexual luring and two counts of invitation to sexual touch arising out of his ministry at Ontario Pioneer Camp.

Dave was a well-loved and highly respected teacher at Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto and the outpouring of grief over his death has been intense amonst his students and colleagues. Dave was also a member of the Wine Before Breakfast community for one semester a couple of years ago. Together with a couple of friends he participated in our worship, ate at the same Eucharist table with all of us, prayed, sang, and grew in discipleship.

Dave was arrested on Thursday morning. The Toronto Star erroneously reported that he had been charged with sexual assault. Within 48 hours of his arrest and release on bail, David Dewees was dead.

I can only begin to imagine the hell that Dave lived in from Thursday morning to Saturday morning. Of course, I don’t know what went through his mind, his heart or his spirit for those two days. What we do know is that by Saturday morning, Dave had decided that his life was over.

We don’t know whether Dave was guilty of the charges laid against him or not. And now there will never be a trial to determine that guilt or innocence. But guilty of these charges or not, there is no way around this but to say this is a deep, deep tragedy.

In the face of such brokenness, Christians pray. We pray for all who have been so terribly wounded. We pray for all who grieve with inconsolable sadness. We pray for Dave’s family, for his friends, his students, his colleagues. We pray for the young boys who made the allegations. We pray for Pioneer Camp and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

And we pray, if that is at all possible, in hope. I’m not sure that I can pray the words, “Death where is your sting?” At least not yet. But I can pray, and invite you to pray, in resurrection hope and in the power of grace.

The press, however, does not pray. On Monday, the Toronto Star added an incredible insult to the false reporting of only a few days earlier. In an article that has reached new depths of journalistic insensitivity, crime reporter Rosi DiManno spoke cavalierly of Dave Dewees’s guilt. This was libel, but there DiManno noted that there is no libel protection for the dead.

You can read her article here.

The Star did not print my letter of response to DiManno. So we post it here:

To the editor:

It is a good thing that “our law affords no protection from libel to the dead,” because otherwise Rosie DiManno’s comments on the David Dewees case would have indeed been libellous. While you cannot mutilate a human body, you can speak with impunity about the life of a man who has engaged in an act that DiManno rightly describes as ritualistic self-mutilation.

Not only does DiManno assume that Dewees “was guilty as charged,” she also has the audacity to describe what was “hard-wired” in this man’s brain. When a few sentences later she qualifies herself by writing, “If Dewees was aroused by boys …” it really doesn’t matter any more. As far as DiManno is concerned, the question of guilt and therefore the question of Dewees’s sexual proclivity was settled when he took his own life.

The best that DiManno can offer to the family, friends and students of this gifted young man is pity. Perhaps DiManno has been doing the crime beat too long. The range of emotion here is so terribly limited. Pity isn’t what is needed. What we need here is a grief born of love.

And when DiManno can only think of suicide in terms of cowardice or courage she again demonstrates a sad limitation of emotional, spiritual and moral vocabulary. How about despair? How about a devastating loss of hope that renders life no longer worth living?

DiManno surmises that the online sexual activities of David Dewees must have “both thrilled and sickened him.” I don’t know how she can presume to understand what went on in Dewees’s heart. Only God knows that. And only God can provide David Dewees and those who now mourn his loss the kind of grace (not pity!) that can bring healing in the face of such devastating brokenness.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

5 Responses to “David Dewees, Grief and Libel”

  1. Kenn Chaplin

    I appreciate your reflections on this tragedy.

  2. Mark Petersen

    Brian, good for you for taking on DiManno. Thank you.

  3. ron cole

    Truly, truly sad. I can only pray for every one touched by this tradgedy. I can’t begin to imagine the torment that David went though…so utterly alone.

  4. M. Kanakaratnam

    Mr. Walsh,

    When I read Rosie DiManno’s article on Monday it angered and upset me in ways I could barely articulate. How could the Star casually dismiss the impact of their initial false report and then go on to gleefully continue their destruction of this man after his death?

    Thank you for this thoughtful response. Your careful distinction between pity and a grief born of love/a grace to bring healing has given me much to think about.

  5. Alex


    Have you read Doug Koop’s editorial about this tragedy in Christian Week (see below for link)? If so, what did you think of it? I was not impressed at all. And though I did not write a letter to express my disappointment, I was very surprised that no one challenged him on his misguided sermonizing. Anyway, thank you for the hope you’ve offered in this piece.




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