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Kenneth Estabrooks, a former Saint John police sergeant, admitted in 1975 to sexually abusing children, but he wasn't charged or fired.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the City of Saint John by alleged sexual abuse victims of former city police officer Kenneth Estabrooks.

Robert (Bobby) Hayes filed the notice of action and statement of claim with the Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday on behalf of himself and other class members.

The Saint John Police Commission and the Saint John Police Department are also listed as defendants.

"Estabrooks' power, authority, and fiduciary duty over the plaintiff and the class members were created and encouraged by the City, the Commission and the SJPD," the nine-page document states.

The defendants kept complaints about Estabrooks secret and failed to warn and protect children, the lawsuit alleges.

Their conduct was "disgraceful, repugnant and reprehensible," the court document states. They have "behaved with arrogance and high-handedness and have shown callous disregard and complete lack of care for the plaintiff and the class members."

Seeking damages, apology

The class action is seeking general damages, special damages, aggravated and punitive damages, as well as costs and pre-judgment interest, although no dollar amount is stated.

It is also seeking an apology and declaration of legal responsibility by all three defendants for the actions of Estabrooks and the injuries suffered by the plaintiff and class members, a validation and compensation program to assist the victims.

As many as 263 youths may have been sexually abused by the late Estabrooks during a three-decade period dating back to the 1950s, a private investigator hired by the city to look into allegations announced in September.

It could be one of the worst cases of sexual abuse in Canadian history, according to Halifax lawyer John McKiggan, who is representing the alleged victims.

"For more than 30 years, Kenneth Estabrooks preyed on children and youth in Saint John. Persons in authority turned a blind eye, or worse, covered up his sexual activities," McKiggan said in a statement issued Wednesday.

"Estabrooks can no longer be held accountable for his actions. But today the Estabrooks survivors are taking control of their lives. They are demanding answers and accountability from the institutions and employers that allowed Estabrooks to destroy so many young lives."

Original investigation 'substandard'

Estabrooks, a former sergeant, was found guilty in September 1999 of indecent assault against four children, in cases dating back to the 1950s. The abuse included fondling and oral sex.

He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Estabrooks had admitted in 1975 to sexually abusing children, but he wasn't charged or fired. Instead, he was transferred out of the police department into the city works department, where he was in charge of tire maintenance for city vehicles until he retired.

It was only in 1997, after new complainants came forward, that another investigation began, resulting in his conviction.

In 1999, the New Brunswick Police Commission found the original investigation was substandard and that the police force acted unprofessionally in "allowing a serious sex offence to go unpunished" so that "he continued to sexually assault children." 

Estabrooks died in 2005.

Ongoing pain, suffering

The lawsuit covers the period between 1953 and 1998.

Hayes says he was sexually assaulted by Estabrooks, starting when he was a minor. The abuse continued for five years, according to the statement of claim.

Hayes says the abuse caused him and the other alleged victims to suffer:

  • Nervous shock
  • Anxiety
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Emotional trauma
  • Decreased social ability
  • Decreased income earning ability
  • Insomnia
  • Low self-esteem
  • Impaired interpersonal relationships
  • Psychological injuries

They continue to endure pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of amenities, the court documents claim.