Victims of a serial child sexual predator who committed crimes while employed by the City of Saint John between the 1950s and 1980s, have been cleared to sue the city as a group.

In a ruling quietly released last Thursday, Justice William Grant rejected arguments from Saint John that victims of the late Kenneth Estabrooks–a former city police officer and works department employee–should not be allowed to launch a class action lawsuit.

"I find that the plaintiff has satisfied the requirement of demonstrating that a class proceeding is the preferable procedure in this case," wrote Justice Grant in a 39–page decision that dismantled several arguments put forward by city lawyers last July, opposing the group lawsuit.

Kirk Baert, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in class actions and is representing victims of Estabrooks, said a lawsuit against Saint John will now proceed.

"At long last, the children who were abused decades ago will have a chance to prove their claims in court," wrote Baert in an email to CBC News.

'All of the kids I knew in the south end were afraid of Estabrooks.' - Robert Hayes

"The wheels of justice may turn slowly but they do turn and the City of Saint John will now have to defend their choices and their conduct in a court of law. "

Estabrooks was a police officer between 1953 and 1975, when his law enforcement career was terminated abruptly  following admissions to superiors he had sexually abused at least two boys. 

But rather than being charged with a crime, Estabrooks was transferred to the city works department, where he retired in 1983.

Years later, more accusations led to Estabrooks being convicted in 1999 on four charges of indecent assault involving three boys and a girl during the years he worked for the city. He was sentenced to six years in prison and died in 2005.   

However, a subsequent private investigation launched in 2012 and funded by the city found evidence of 79 Estabrooks victims with investigators suggesting the number was likely higher. 

Victim speaks out

One of those 79 victims was Robert Hayes, who has been attempting to launch a class action lawsuit against the city on behalf of all children abused by Estabrooks, but the effort faced stiff opposition in court from the city.

Hayes swore an affidavit describing how he was first sexually assaulted by Estabrooks in 1970 as a 10-year-old and many times after that during the following three or four years. 

Hayes said Estabrooks would take him to an isolated part of Saint John's Tin Can Beach for the assaults. Hayes claims he witnessed it happening to others.

"During the same time frame I witnessed Estabrooks raping seven or eight other children on Tin Can Beach," Hayes said in his affidavit.

"He was a big man. Because he was a policeman he carried a gun. All of the kids I knew in the south end were afraid of Estabrooks."

Hayes said he was sexually assaulted again by Estabrooks as a young man, when the two were both employed by the city works department and supervisors simply advised him to "move faster" to avoid being assaulted.

City lawyers made a number of arguments against certifying Hayes's lawsuit as a class action, each of which Justice Grant either dismissed or said could be argued later in trial. 

Baert told the court last July that victims of Estabrooks could not afford to launch individual lawsuits against the city on their own and that a class action was the only practical way for a case to proceed.