Catholic church, B.C. high school file new lawsuits to fight allegations of sexual abuse
Both organizations say the teachers themselves would be to blame for any alleged abuse
The Archdiocese of Vancouver and one of two local high schools facing allegations of systemic sexual abuse have now filed their own lawsuits denying any wrongdoing, saying any mistreatment of students was through no fault of their own.
The archdiocese and St. Thomas More Collegiate (STMC) high school filed their claims last week in response to an ongoing class action lawsuit that has claimed abusive teachers targeted students in Vancouver for decades after they were transferred from the notorious Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland.
The organizations say the teachers themselves would be among the ones to blame for any alleged abuse.
"If ... any members of the class have suffered any damage ... such damage was caused or contributed to by the fault of [the teachers]," read the archdiocese's claim.
The lawsuits come weeks after the original lawsuit was certified as a class-action, which lawyers said paved the way for as many as 65 survivors from the Vancouver area to come forward. Those same lawyers described the defendants' decision to file separate lawsuits in response to the claim as "unusual" but not a deterrent.
"We're disappointed but not surprised," said Joe Fiorante, who represents Darren Liptrot, the lead plaintiff in the class action.
"Mr. Liptrot and the others have waited a long time for access to justice, and we're not now going to allow these defendants to try and use these types of tactics to slow it down."
Class action moving forward
The class action said the Catholic order that ran Mount Cashel, the Christian Brothers of Ireland, knowingly transferred abusive teachers from the orphanage to B.C., where they went on to sexually and physically abuse more children from 1976 to 2013.
The six teachers — Joseph Burke, David Burton, Edward English, Edward French, Douglas Kenny and Kevin Short — were all later convicted of physical or sexual abuse.
In its lawsuit filed Friday, STMC said the school is "unaware of any specific instances of abuse" perpetrated by the teachers sent from Newfoundland. If abuse did happen, if said, it would be the Christian Brothers' fault — not theirs.
"Any such injury, loss, damage or expense sustained by the class was caused by the fault, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and/or breach of duty, statutory or otherwise, of the Defendants, and not by any act or omission of [STMC]," the lawsuit read.
In a similar vein, the Archdiocese of Vancouver denied any abuse. It said the province could be to blame for any damage done by one teacher in particular.
The claim said the Ministry of Education reinstated Joseph Burke's teaching certificate after his conviction for indecent assault was overturned in 1996, allowing him to return to the classroom for another 17 years.
The archdiocese also said it didn't oversee either independent Catholic schools, nor did it have any authority over those schools — meaning it shouldn't have been expected to know about alleged abuse.
The plaintiff's lawyer said otherwise.
"At anytime, [they] could have stepped in and blocked the transfer or removed those Christian brothers from teaching at those schools," Fiorante said, adding it's "unusual" for defendants to file a fresh lawsuit in response to an ongoing claim rather than a third-party notice.
In their new lawsuits, the archdiocese and STMC both name the individual teachers as defendants responsible for any damages rising from their actions.
Both organizations are asking the courts to declare any damage was caused by the teachers themselves. The school said the Christian Brothers should also be held accountable, while the archdiocese pointed to the Christian Brothers.
Both are also seeking exemptions from any financial liability.
In an email, STMC declined to comment further on the new lawsuit.
"Given that these matters are before the courts, it would not be prudent to provide colour or commentary at this time," wrote school president Steve Garland.
CBC News has contacted the Archdiocese of Vancouver for comment.
Liptrot, the lead plaintiff, said one of the teachers sexually abused him from 1981 to 1983 while he was a student at Vancouver College in grades 9 and 10.
He said he tried to report Edward English to his vice-principal but was ignored.
Since Liptrot filed his claim, his lawyers told the court more than 65 men have come forward claiming they were abused at the Vancouver-area schools by the men sent from Mount Cashel.
The lawsuit said the former students have suffered significant damage, including pain and suffering, psychological injuries, addiction issues, the inability to have normal and healthy sexual development and spiritual trauma, including loss of faith.
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs want a declaration that they were abused and the defendants are liable for that abuse; an award for damages for negligence; past and future costs of health care; and punitive and aggravated damages.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.
- An earlier version of this story said Joseph Burke's criminal convictions were overturned in 1996. In fact, only his conviction for indecent assault was overturned. A conviction for assault causing bodily harm was upheld and Burke received an absolute discharge.Mar 28, 2023 12:05 PM PT
With files from Ryan Cooke and The Canadian Press