There were systemic failures in how local and provincial institutions responded to historical allegations of sexual abuse in Cornwall, Ont., a public inquiry has found, but the inquiry's head would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a long-rumoured pedophile ring in the eastern Ontario town.

The four-year, $53 million inquiry was struck in 2005 to examine the response by police, government agencies and other institutions to the allegations, but some observers had hoped it would also address rumours that local officials were operating a clandestine pedophile ring.

Inquiry Commissioner G. Normand Glaude did not clarify the issue in his 1,600-page report, which was released Tuesday.

"Throughout this inquiry I have heard evidence that suggested that there were cases of joint abuse, passing of alleged victims, and possibly passive knowledge of abuse," Glaude wrote.

"I want to be very clear that I am not going to make a pronouncement on whether a ring existed or not."

Glaude did find "systemic failures" in how a number of institutions responded to the allegations.

Glaude found fault with the local probation office, the diocese and police, who he says failed to fully investigate claims of abuse.

He said he found evidence of several cases where these institutions did not try to find other victims or abusers.

"For some, this resulted in revictimization by the institution from whom they sought help," he wrote. "The response of institutions became a further source of harm."

After the report was released, lead inquiry counsel, Peter Engelmann, said many of the institutions acted hastily in their investigations.

"The commissioner's report finds there were many systemic failures by these institutions when they were investigating themselves or not, or when they were the police investigating, or the Crown prosecuting," Engelmann told CTV News' Danielle Hamamdjian.

"And he makes over 200 recommendations in the hope that these will be acted upon soon so that we can better deal with this very difficult, complex criminal problem."

Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley told reporters he will review the report's recommendations and "take whatever action is required to ensure that we fully support victims, we fully support those who are touched by tragedy, and strengthen -- wherever we need to, wherever we must -- the prosecution of offences."

While observers have criticized the high cost of the inquiry, Engelmann pointed out that some funding went towards counselling for abuse victims, which is scheduled to continue through January 15.

Glaude told reporters he was troubled by the Ontario government's decision to discontinue counselling services before learning of his report's contents.

Bentley has previously said he thinks counselling should continue and would make a decision about possibly extending the assistance after reading Glaude's recommendations on the issue.

Case twisted and turned

The case broke open in 1992, when a 35-year-old former altar boy claimed he was sexually abused by probation officer Ken Seguin and Rev. Charles MacDonald when he was a youth.

In 1993, the man reached a $32,000 settlement with the local diocese and declined to pursue charges. That year, Seguin committed suicide.

In September, Cornwall police officer Perry Dunlop took on the case and, during a tireless off-hours investigation, uncovered a number of other victims who alleged they were sexually abused. Dunlop became convinced that local officials were operating a clandestine pedophile ring.

In 1996, MacDonald was charged with sexual abuse, with more charges laid in 1998. However, in 2002, the charges were stayed after a judge ruled his right to a trial within a reasonable amount of time was violated.

In 1997, the Ontario Provincial Police established Project Truth, which eventually laid 114 charges against 15 people, but found no evidence of a pedophile ring. Only one person was convicted.

In his report, Glaude criticized the OPP investigation, which failed to put to rest the pedophile ring rumours.

Glaude noted that while the OPP did investigate rumours of a ring, investigators did not properly pursue connections between alleged abusers. But he also acknowledged the difficulty police might have in defining a ring.

"There is good reason why certain members of the public were less than satisfied with the OPP's unequivocal position about the non-existence of a ring," Glaude wrote.

"I would note that much of what I have heard about linkages remain allegations that have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Dunlop spent seven months in jail for contempt of court when he refused to appear before the inquiry to discuss his suspicions.

In his report, Glaude wrote that Dunlop asked leading questions during his interviews, which suggests "a process to develop a narrative supportive of a desired theory."

Glaude also found that suspicions that officials with the Ministry of the Attorney General conspired to cover-up allegations of abuse are unfounded. He also cast doubt on allegations that a group of powerful officials abused boys at a cottage while clad in robes.

That allegation was levelled by Ron Leroux, who recanted his allegations at the inquiry.

With files from The Canadian Press