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1989: Notorious Mount Cashel orphanage to close

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Canada's most infamous orphanage is closing its doors. For almost a century, the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's, N.L. was a symbol of Christian charity. But by 1989, it has become synonymous with the terrible physical and sexual abuse inflicted on its residents by members of the Christian Brothers. In the wake of that scandal, the decision is made to finally close the site. In this clip, acting social services minister Chris Decker talks about the conflicting emotions the announcement brings.
• In 1876 the Congregation of Irish Christian Brothers, which was founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice in 1802, opened schools in Newfoundland and across North America. In 1898, the bishop of St. John's donated land for an orphanage. It was named Mount Cashel after the site in Ireland where St. Patrick is said to have baptized the pagan king Aenghus in 450. Provincial agencies began placing wards of the state at Mount Cashel in the 1950s.

• In 1989, Roman Catholic priest Rev. James Hickey was charged with sexually molesting young boys in his parish. The investigation prompted charges against other priests, including several members of the Irish Christian Brothers running the Mount Cashel orphanage. There were also allegations that previous investigations beginning in 1975 had been covered up, and the offenders whisked away to other provinces, where they received treatment and soon took on new religious postings.

• The church set up a commission of enquiry, and the Newfoundland government established a royal commission (the Hughes Inquiry) to investigate. The publicity also lead to other investigations into sexual abuse in institutions across Canada.

• By March 1989 police had laid 77 charges against the eight members of the Irish Congregation of Christian Brothers who were implicated in the earlier investigation. They also charged a ninth man for more recent offences, and laid 17 charges against three civilians.

• Nine Christian Brothers were eventually convicted and sentenced to between one and 13 years in prison.

• The Hughes Inquiry concluded that officials had indeed covered up the sexual abuse at Mount Cashel, and recommended that the victims be compensated. But it said there was insufficient evidence to charge church and government officials for obstructing justice.

• In 1992, CBC Television aired a movie called The Boys of St. Vincent. The film starred Henry Czerny in a story loosely based on the Mount Cashel abuse scandal. The original broadcast was banned in Ontario and parts of Quebec for fear it would prejudice the outcomes of ongoing abuse trials. It was rebroadcast a year later, reaching more than 2 million viewers each of the two nights. The film was then released internationally, winning film festival awards at Cannes, Banff, Columbus and New York.

• The orphanage was closed in 1990, the facility razed and the land sold. It became the site of a supermarket and a residential development called the Howley Estates. A piece of the orphanage was installed as a small monument to the children of Mount Cashel.

• On April 5, 1992, the Christian Brothers formally apologized to the victims of abuse at Mount Cashel.

• The fight to compensate the victims of Mount Cashel lasted for many years. In 1996 the Newfoundland government paid $11.5 million in compensation. The courts ordered the assets of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada sold to compensate the victims. They were to receive between $20,000 and $600,000 in compensation.

• There was another legal battle over the ownership of two Vancouver schools held by members of the Brothers. St. Thomas More Collegiate in Burnaby and Vancouver College in Shaughnessy were slated to be liquidated to pay damages to the Newfoundland victims. But lawyers for the schools said they were not owned by the Order of Christian Brothers, but by four individual members who held shares. In 2002 the schools paid $19-million in an out-of-court settlement.

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: Nov. 27, 1989
Guest(s): Chris Decker
Host: Michael Enright, Alan Maitland
Duration: 6:46

Last updated: October 22, 2014

Page consulted on October 22, 2014

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