Quebec school sex abuse settlement threatened

A compensation deal for the alleged victims of a sexual abuse scandal at Bishop's College School in Quebec's Eastern Townships is at risk of collapsing, CBC News has learned.

Bishop's College School deal would be rejected if 3 or more victims opt out

The future of the settlement between Bishop's College School and alleged sex abuse victims hinges on the number of claimants who opt out. ((CBC))
A compensation deal for the alleged victims of a sexual abuse scandal at Bishop's College School in Quebec's Eastern Townships is at risk of collapsing, CBC News has learned.

At least 30 former students have joined a $58-million class action lawsuit against the school, alleging they were molested by an Anglican minister who was a teacher and housemaster at the school in Lennoxville, Que., in the 1950s and 1960s.

An out of court settlement between the school and the lawyer representing some claimants is to be presented to a Quebec Superior Court judge on April 30.

But, under the terms of the settlement, the deal becomes null and void if three or more of the alleged victims opt out of the agreement.

CBC News has reached at least three claimants who are calling the monetary terms of the settlement unacceptable.
Rev. Harold Forster, the man at the centre of the allegations, is shown in this 1958 yearbook photo. ((Bishop's College School/CBC))

The details of the agreement are confidential, but sources close to the case confirm it is substantially less than the $5 million the Selwyn House school in Montreal offered victims of the sexual abuse scandal at that school, which was approved by the court in January 2009.

Culture of abuse

"It is totally unacceptable. That's a slap in the face," said one alleged victim who now lives in British Columbia.

A second claimant, who lives in Alberta, described the deal as "dead on arrival."

The claimants identities are protected under a court order.

"Our youth has been robbed," said another alleged victim, who lives in Montreal and said he will also reject the settlement. "It is only fair that in our old age we are compensated for what was done to us."

The lawsuit alleges a culture of abuse reigned at the school that involved former housemaster the late Rev. Harold Forster, some teachers and senior students .

In an interview with CBC News, the Montreal-based claimant described how Forster made him come to his room in the early hours of the morning and ordered him to take off his clothes.

"I was terrified," said the man. "I didn't know what was expected.  He put me over his lap."

Bishop's College School is seeking dialogue and resolution, says Kurt Johnson, chairman of the school's board of directors. ((CBC))
The man said the minister then struck him on the backside with a hairbrush. The punishment was followed by sexual touching.

As a result of the abuse, the man said he suffered from panic attacks.

Other victims tell similar stories. Affidavits filed in court detail lifelong struggles with depression, severe anxiety and substance abuse.

Officials at Bishop's College School said they are doing their best to close a difficult chapter for the boarding school.

"From the beginning we've been seeking dialogue, reconciliation and resolution, and the settlement will allow us to redouble those efforts," said Kurt Johnson, chairman of the board.

"It has been a trying time for the school, dealing with issues and allegations that arose nearly a half a century ago," said Johnson.

"The challenge for the school has been to balance the interests of the students who are at the school now and future students of BCS with those who were at the school in the past and who claim to have been aggrieved."