Alleged abuse case at N.S. orphanage goes to court
155 ex-residents of Home for Colored Children want lawsuit ceritfied against government as a class action
Former residents of a Dartmouth orphanage who claim they suffered years of abuse and neglect at the hands of their caregivers will take their case against the Nova Scotia government to court Monday.
The group, comprised of about 155 ex-residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, want the province's Supreme Court to certify their lawsuit against the government as a class action.
But first, the court will deal with an application by the province to have affidavits from the alleged victims thrown out.
The lawsuit alleges residents were physically, sexually and mentally abused by staff at the home over a 50-year period up until the 1980s.
There is considerable weight hinging on Judge Arthur LeBlanc's decision.
Ray Wagner, the lawyer representing the home's former residents, said without the affidavits, there would be virtually no evidence to support the certification motion.
"It would likely fail," he said.
Emotions from the former residents are mixed, Wagner added, as their case crawls through the legal process.
"They're certainly feeling optimistic about it in that we're now bringing the matter to a head," he said. "They're also upset, of course, that the province continues to try to deny their stories and to prevent those stories from being told in a court of a law."
Tracey Dorrington-Skinner, one of the plaintiffs, said Premier Darrell Dexter has spoken out about the importance of reconciliation and healing for the home's former residents, but that his actions suggest he's not genuine in his efforts.
"He thinks that he's doing us justice ... but he's not providing any healing at all," said Dorrington-Skinner, who spent about 12 years at the home as a young girl.
"He's actually making things a lot worse for a lot of people who are just beginning to deal with all of the stuff that's attached to growing up in the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children."
The Justice Department declined a request for an interview, saying it won't comment on matters before the courts.
But last month, Dexter defended criticism from the opposition parties that his government's motion to strike the affidavits was unusually heavy-handed, particularly as it pushes ahead with an independent panel to review the abuse accusations.
"The lawsuit is about the question of compensation and that's a wholly different issue," Dexter said at the time.
If victim affidavits struck down, group plans to appeal
Wagner also said it was uncommon for defendants to move to strike affidavits while a class-action lawsuit is at the certification stage.
He said an appeal would be launched if the affidavits are struck and the certification is rejected. If the appeal failed, Wagner said the complainants would move forward with individual cases in what would surely be a drawn-out process.
"We'll clog up the courts for about another two or three decades of individual cases," he said. "It will be very expensive for the judicial system to tie up this matter."
Dorrington-Skinner, 48, said she won't back down now.
"It's imperative to continue fighting," she said from her home in Truro, N.S. "This is not something that can go unresolved. There are too many people who've been affected by the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.
"There are people who will never heal because nobody is taking responsibility."
Eight days have been set aside for the matter in Halifax. The proceedings will be webcast to the public.
The court will also be asked to approve a $5-million settlement reached in April between the home and former residents.
According to the terms of the agreement, the money will be placed in a trust account until the lawsuit against the provincial government is resolved.
If that lawsuit is still ongoing a year after the settlement money from the home has been received, the lawyers for the plaintiffs can seek the court's approval of a plan to distribute the funds.
The home has also agreed to co-operate with the plaintiffs as they continue their lawsuit against the government.
In December, Halifax police and the RCMP announced they would not be laying criminal charges in the case after concluding there was not enough evidence to support the allegations.