Class action suits filed against 4 Catholic organizations for decades of alleged sexual assaults
Suits represent people allegedly assaulted as children as far back as 1940
Four Roman Catholic organizations have been named in class action lawsuits for sexual assaults that were alleged to have taken place over the past 80 years.
The Joliette diocese, the Saint-Jean-Longueuil diocese, and two religious orders — the Frères de Saint-Gabriel du Canada and the Society of St-Vincent de Paul — are named in four separate suits filed Thursday in Quebec Superior Court, in Montreal.
Each suit represents "all people, including heirs and beneficiaries, who were sexually assaulted by any official and/or religious member" of the organizations, from January 1940 to the present.
The firm behind the lawsuits, Arsenault Dufresne Wee (ADW), previously submitted similar class action lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal and the teaching congregation the Frères des écoles chrétiennes, also known as the Christian Brothers.
Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, one of the lawyers involved in the suits, said that publicity surrounding those cases led other alleged victims to come forward.
"People called us, and we realized that there was no class action for these victims," she said.
The class actions have not yet been authorized to proceed by the court.
The lead plaintiffs, who are not named in the court documents, were boys when the assaults allegedly occurred. One plaintiff claims to have been seven when the assaults began.
In a letter included in the court documents, one complainant said that when he thinks about it, his eyes water, his body trembles and he feels sick.
"I cried all my life. I was locked in this cruel and lonely universe for too long," he wrote.
"I feel that I can finally be heard.... I feel the help that is finally reaching me."
Dufresne-Lemire said that people she's represented have told her they feel better after speaking out.
"A lot of people that call us, they've never talked to anyone about it," she said.
"Their family is not aware of it, their friends," said Dufresne-Lemire. "They're always very surprised when people are supportive, because they do feel like it's their fault and that people will judge them."
The law firm is inviting anyone who may have experienced sexual assault by someone from one of the religous organizations to contact them to join the suit.
Dufresne-Lemire said that the process is free and confidential, and she encourages people to get in touch. She said that if a victim does not sign on to the class action lawsuit, they will lose their right to sue in the future.
"We really respect the time frame of every victim, but it's important that they call us," she said.