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Ontario town faces uproar over honours for convicted sex offender

A screenshot shows part of Amherstburg, Ont.’s town website.

For years, Jim Massen lived on a sprawling piece of land on the edge of Amherstburg, Ont., known as a farmer and a fixer of televisions. But rumours of a checkered past circulated among the town of 21,000 on the banks of the Detroit River.

The 80-year-old retiree gained some attention in 2008, when the town paid over $400,000 to acquire his property to build a new recreation complex.

Last year, he donated some of that money back, posing for photographs holding an oversized novelty cheque with the town's mayor. In exchange, his name was placed on the scoreboard at a baseball diamond for disabled children and a road leading to the site was named Massen Drive.

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Now, after journalists confirmed Mr. Massen was convicted of sex offences more than two decades ago, some locals are demanding the town reverse the agreement and councillors have called a special, closed-door meeting for Thursday morning to figure out what to do.

In March 1990, Mr. Massen was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of gross indecency and one count of sexual touching, according to media reports from the time.

Mr. Massen maintained that he believed the three underaged boys in question were old enough to consent.

In one instance, court heard, the then-middle-aged farmer struck up a conversation with a 13-year-old boy at an ice cream booth during an antique train show in Milton in 1983 and then fondled him in his truck. The boy kept in contact with Mr. Massen over the next three years, even working at his farm for a time, and traded sexual favours for money.

In the second case, he was convicted of performing sexual acts with a 16-year-old boy who had brought in a television to be repaired. In the third case, another 16-year-old who did some work around the farm said Mr. Massen made unwanted sexual advances and showed him pornography. Under legislation then in place, the age of consent was 21.

One report said Mr. Massen had four indecent assault convictions in 1965.

On Wednesday evening, Amherstburg Mayor Wayne Hurst said he knew nothing of the convictions before hearing of them from the media this week.

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He said he wouldn't discuss the situation until after Thursday's council meeting.

"I'm not prepared to talk to you about no issue," he said. "You're not going to get me to say anything else."

Telephone calls to Mr. Massen's home Wednesday evening were met with a busy signal.

Rick Fryer, who was on town council when the donations were first offered, said he had heard "folklore" about the benefactor's past and felt uneasy about taking his money. Without knowing one way or the other whether it was true, he said he took a cautious approach and voted against accepting the donations.

"I didn't want anything to do with Mr. Massen, especially with it being a recreational facility that's going to service younger children," he said.

Lisa Scott, a 46-year-old resident of the town, said she'd heard about Mr. Massen's past her whole life and questioned how town councillors had been unable to unearth any evidence of his court case.

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"When any of the boys brought their TV out there to be repaired, they would bring us girls with them," she said. "I can't believe they would consider taking a dime from him."

Some townsfolk have planned a rally for 8:30 a.m. outside town hall as council meets inside. As of late Wednesday evening, 300 people had signed up on Facebook.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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