New Brunswick

Insurers bring case against Bathurst diocese to Supreme Court

Aviva Insurance Company is bringing its fight against the diocese of Bathurst to the country's highest court over the question of whose responsibility it is to compensate victims of sexual abuse.

Catholic Church and insurers have been fighting for years over question of who should pay victims of priests

Father Wesley Wade, vicar general of the diocese of Bathurst, said two months ago that he would be surprised if Aviva appealed the latest ruling. (CBC)

Aviva Insurance Company is bringing its fight against the Catholic diocese of Bathurst to the country's highest court.

In October, New Brunswick's Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Catholic Church, ordering the insurers to pay it $3.4 million to go toward compensation for victims of pedophile priests.

The ruling was the result of a years-long battle between both parties over whose responsibility it was to compensate people who suffered sexual abuse as children.

The church had been arguing the insurance policy at the time of the abuse included coverage for "bodily injury caused intentionally by … the archdiocese."

But the insurers claimed the church failed in its obligation to disclose information about the abuse, and the coverage was therefore void.

"The church sought insurance coverage for crimes committed by their priests, which evidence shows they attempted to cover up. That is wrong," a spokesperson for Aviva told CBC in an emailed statement.

Many of the Bathurst cases involve priest Levi Noel, convicted of 22 charges of abusing young boys. (CBC)

After a split 2016 decision by the Court of Queen's Bench that both parties contested, the court of appeal ruled in favour of the church, when Aviva abandoned its part of the appeal.

But the company has now decided to forge ahead in the battle, filing an application Friday for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, according to the court's website.

The court can now decide to hear the case or not.

The Bathurst case relates to allegations of sexual abuse against various priests between the late 1950s and early 1980s — many of them involving priest Levi Noel, who was convicted of 22 sex-related offences in 2010 and freed from prison a year before his death in 2016.

Victims waiting

Victims in the Bathurst case have already been paid, and it is now a matter of whether the insurance company will reimburse the church.

But the decision will affect a similar case involving the archdiocese of Moncton, where the church is seeking $4.2 million against its insurer, Co-operators General Insurance.

The Moncton victims have not been paid.

CBC News recently learned as many as 29 sexual abuse victims had reached tentative settlements with the archdiocese years ago, and the church had only given $1,000 advances to date, saying full payment would come once the insurance battle came to an end.