N.L. government admits liability after social worker took teen out of Mount Cashel to sexually abuse him

A teenage boy who was placed at Mount Cashel in the 1980s escaped sexual abuse inside the orphanage's troubled walls, only to face it outside by someone who was supposed to protect him.

$750,000 settlement reached in ‘tragic’ and ‘enraging’ case dating back to 1980s

The plaintiff, a St. John's resident referred to as John Doe in court documents, has reached a $750,000 settlement in a civil suit against the Newfoundland and Labrador government for negligence. (CBC)

A teenage boy who was placed at Mount Cashel in the 1980s escaped sexual abuse inside the St. John's orphanage's troubled walls, only to face it outside by someone who was supposed to protect him.

The man, now in his 40s, has reached a settlement in a civil suit against the Newfoundland and Labrador government for negligence.

The province has admitted liability for the actions of a social worker who, the statement of claim said, "plied the [boy] with alcohol and repeatedly sexually battered" him.

It has agreed to pay $750,000, which is near the highest settlement for an abuse case involving the government.

The plaintiff, a St. John's resident referred to as John Doe in court documents, said he was abused by his social worker at the worker's apartment.

Lynn Moore, a lawyer with the firm Morris Martin Moore, is representing John Doe. She said the abuse has had a 'lifelong, serious impact' on her client. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Lawyer Lynn Moore said the details of her client's case make her angry.

"The social worker was supposed to protect him — he was charged by law with protecting children — and he abused that position of trust for his own perverted means. It's tragic really, and enraging," she said.

"It's terrible to me that the government did not recognize this problem earlier and deal with it."

Case settled late last year 

Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister Andrew Parsons confirmed the $750,000 settlement, which CBC News found posted with other orders-in-council, or cabinet decisions, on the government's website.

"It's horrific," Parsons said. "It's absolutely horrific. This is a person's life that was irreparably damaged — and government admitted liability. It is a significant amount."

He said the government goes through an intensive due-diligence process in any case involving allegations like this one.

"This is a particularly serious one that involved a pretty serious fact pattern," Parsons said.

Andrew Parsons, the province's attorney general, said, 'It's absolutely horrific. This is a person's life that was irreparably damaged — and government admitted liability.' (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

He noted that there is no statute of limitations for cases of sexual abuse, and he has no issue with that.

"We're paying now for what's gone on years and years ago, but the fact is the liability remains with government," he said.

"There is a process. There is a lot of money that's paid out. But when you read these cases, and see what people went through when they were in the care of government — it's difficult."

Sexually abused 'in a very severe way'

According to court documents, the plaintiff was in the province's custody for a dozen years, from the late 1970s until the early 1990s.

In 1986, the then-teenager was living in his mother's home, when child-protection officials decided he needed to be moved out. He was hesitant about going to Mount Cashel.

Moore said her client was approached by the social worker when the teen's life was in flux.

Mount Cashel, in a 1989 photo, was built as an orphanage for Roman Catholic boys in 1875 on a large estate in the east end of St. John's. (CBC)

"The social worker befriended him and assisted in his placement at Mount Cashel, and then took him from Mount Cashel to his own home and sexually abused him in a very severe way," she said.

"Our belief is that [the social worker] was grooming [John Doe] for the eventual sexual exploitation that took place."

Court documents allege the social worker drove John Doe around in his sports car and developed a level of trust with him.

"Under the guise of getting something at his home, the social worker lured the applicant to the social worker's basement apartment, where the applicant was subjected to sexual assaults by the social worker," the documents read.

Documents outline prior concerns

John Doe's statement of claim, which was filed in 2016, alleges the province was negligent and "failed to take reasonable or any steps to perform its duties of care to the plaintiff."

It alleges government should have been aware that John Doe would have been exposed to the risk of sexual abuse, and that the social worker's qualifications were never investigated, evaluated, or monitored, and his lack of qualifications was overlooked or ignored. 

There is evidence to suggest that the social worker's supervisor was concerned that the social worker was sexually abusing children.— Court documents

According to court documents, the social worker was fired from his job in 1988 for misappropriating funds.

"He had diverted government money to a young male, that the male was not entitled to," Moore said.

The documents also mention "serious performance issues" prior to the social worker's dismissal.

"There is evidence to suggest that the social worker's supervisor was concerned that the social worker was sexually abusing children," the documents state.

Moore told CBC News she had spoken with the social worker's supervisor.

"[He] told me that he was concerned based on the social worker's level of interest and some comments that the social worker had made. So he re-assigned him away for part of the time from duties involving young children," she said.

"And it didn't work. It wasn't a strong enough move to protect my client."

The social worker has since died.

'Lifelong, serious impact'

Moore said the abuse has had a "lifelong, serious impact" on John Doe.

"My client has PTSD, he has major depressive disorder, he has a social anxiety disorder, he has been deeply wounded by this, and it has affected many, many areas of his life," she said.

But Moore notes her client is an "exceptionally resilient individual" who is picking up the pieces.

"This compensation is an opportunity for him to start anew, in some respects, and he would much rather that none of it had ever happened, but this, I believe, is compensation that will enable him to explore other areas to get the treatment he needs if necessary and to hopefully move on," she said.

My clients want validation. They want someone to acknowledge that they've been harmed, and that government is responsible.— Lawyer Lynn Moore

Moore said she was the first person John Doe told about his past.

"It was difficult for him. It was a very intense process for him, but it was his choice, it was something that he wanted to do," she said.

"There have been ups and downs throughout the period of time that the litigation has been ongoing, in terms of how he has been dealing with it, but I think overall, he's happy that he took the step that he took."

Moore said for her client, it's not just about the compensation.

"The acknowledgement from government in settling it is always really important for my clients," she said.

"My clients want validation. They want someone to acknowledge that they've been harmed, and that government is responsible."

About the Author

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.

With files from Rob Antle