Manitoba

Man files civil suit over alleged sex abuse at hands of disgraced Winnipeg priest

One of several alleged victims involved in an ongoing criminal case against a former Winnipeg priest and convicted sex offender is suing him, and the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Boniface, over what he describes as years of sexual abuse at the hands of the disgraced clergyman.

Lawsuit targets convicted sex offender Ron Léger, Catholic religious order and Archdiocese of St. Boniface

A man who says he was abused by convicted sex offender Ronald Léger, above, has launched a civil suit against the former Winnipeg priest, the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and the religious order that ordained Léger. (Radio-Canada)

A man who is part of an ongoing criminal case against a former Winnipeg priest has now launched a civil suit against the convicted sex offender, the Archdiocese of St. Boniface, and a Roman Catholic religious order.

In a statement of claim filed earlier this month with the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, the man alleges years of sexual abuse at the hands of Ron Léger, saying the disgraced clergyman abused him while Léger ran a Winnipeg teen drop-in centre during the 1980s.

The now 50-year-old plaintiff — whose identity is protected under a publication ban — is asking for $2.1 million in damages.

Léger, now 81, pleaded guilty in July 2015 to three counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual interference. He was sentenced in February 2016 to two years behind bars and his name was added to Canada's national sex offender registry.

He was charged with eight more counts of sexual assault in October 2016 after the civil suit plaintiff and three other men came forward, alleging Léger sexually assaulted them starting in the 1980s. The men say they were between the ages of 10 and 12 when the assaults began.

Further charges of sexual assault were laid in August 2017, when another three men came forward alleging they were also sexually assaulted by Léger in their youth.

All of the men first encountered Léger at his St. Boniface youth drop-in centre, Teen Stop Jeunesse, which he opened in 1983. Before that, he ran a drop-in centre from his home for several years while he also worked as a teacher.

The criminal case remains before the courts and none of the allegations have been proven.

4 years of abuse alleged

In an interview with CBC News, the civil suit plaintiff called his suit "long overdue" and said he filed it in part because of the length of time the criminal case — scheduled to start Sept. 16 — is taking to work its way through the courts.

"Who thought we would still be waiting for a day in court, three years later?" he said during a phone interview, after filing the court papers May 6.

"The civil suit is about me, it is my story … whereas in the Crown action I'm just a witness in a case that they can decide to move in any which direction."

It's important to me for him to understand that these were life-long setbacks that continued to haunt me … and continued to limit my ability to live my life to its potential.- Civil suit plaintiff

In the suit, the man outlines four years of alleged abuse by Léger, starting in 1983 when the plaintiff was 14. The suit alleges Léger hugged the teen, fondled him both with and without his clothes on, exposed himself to the teen and engaged in "other sexual activities."

The suit says the alleged abuse progressed in severity over the years and happened at Teen Stop, a home on Gaboury Place, and other homes and religious facilities owned or operated by the Order or the Archdiocese.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The suit also names the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and the Clercs de Saint-Viateur du Canada, or Clerics of Saint Viator — the religious order which ordained Léger.

"The plaintiff was a child and, as such, the defendants owed to the plaintiff a high duty and standard of care and, in particular, a duty to protect him from harm by its employees," the suit says.

The suit alleges the archdiocese and the order were responsible and liable for Léger's actions, and failed  "to recognize that a certain percentage of priests would become sexually deviant and would make sexual advances to children and young people."

It alleges the archdiocese and order were "willfully blind" to the behaviour and implemented a system designed to cover up the abuse in a "harsh, high-handed and malicious" manner.

"[The archdiocese] has failed, to this day, to investigate the extent of Léger's past behaviour and has failed to render any assistance to the plaintiff, contrary to its own internal policies and the policies of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops," the suit says.

Removed from office

When the Archdiocese of St. Boniface learned of the allegations against Léger in 2014, it suspended him from all ministerial activities. Following his conviction in 2015, it removed him from office.

In a May 21 written statement, the archdiocese said it cannot comment on the civil suit, since it is before the courts.

"The Archdiocese of Saint Boniface expresses its deep sorrow to all victims who have come forward as well as to their families who have been affected by these and other alleged actions by Fr. Ron Léger," the statement said.

"While the archdiocese was not involved in the operation of Teen Stop Jeunesse, it will do all it can to assist on a pastoral basis those victims who have come forward as well as those who have not yet made known their suffering."

A September 2017 story on new charges against Léger:

Ronald Léger, a Catholic priest who founded and ran a youth centre in Winnipeg for decades is facing new sexual assault charges from three alleged victims, on top of charges laid last year following accusations from four other men. 1:23

CBC News has reached out to the Clerics of Saint Viator for comment but has yet to hear back.

Léger's lawyer, Saul Simmonds, said his client maintains his innocence.

"He will address these allegations in the appropriate forum," Simmonds said in an email.

'I'd like to get on with my life'

While he says he expects to be attacked by Léger's defence when he takes the stand, the man behind the civil suit said he'll take some satisfaction in getting the chance to have his story heard.

"It's important to me for him to understand that these were lifelong setbacks that continued to haunt me, continued to dog me, and continued to limit my ability to live my life to its potential," the man said.

His suit claims he suffers from mental anguish, nervous shock, humiliation, degradation, shame, guilt and feelings of worthlessness as a result of the alleged abuse.

"I was just an emerging person, you know, who was then quite stunted by this person's actions and words and then continued behaviour around that," the man told CBC News.

Ron Léger was charged with eight counts of sexual assault in October 2016. Additional charges were added in August 2017 when three more men came forward with allegations. (CBC)

He said he doesn't hold much hope that he'll see results from his civil suit until after the criminal trial is finished.

"I'd like to get on with my life. I'd like to put this chapter behind me," he said.

"If I can't get some kind of satisfaction from the legal side then I'll seek that elsewhere — I'll seek that in a forum where I do get to tell my story and that story is weighed and measured appropriately."

With files from Katie Nicholson