New Brunswick

Victims of sexual abuse by clergy opened up to Michel Bastarache

Former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache is testifying in the civil suit involving the Diocese of Bathurst. It's seeking millions of dollars from the Aviva Insurance company, spent compensating victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

Former Supreme Court justice testifies in the civil suit involving Diocese of Bathurst

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache was hired by the Diocese of Bathurst to oversee compensation of sexual assault victims. (CBC)

A former Supreme Court justice testified today in a lawsuit between the Diocese of Bathurst and its insurance company.

Michel Bastarache took the stand and described how victims told him how they were sexually abused by Catholic priests in the diocese dating back to the 1950's.

"Eighty per cent of people told me I was the first person they told," said Bastarache in a Moncton courtroom. "About half of those people told me I'd be the last."

Bastarache was in charge of a confidential conciliation or compensation process for victims of molestation by priests in the Bathurst diocese.

Eighty per cent of people told me I was the first person they told, and about half of those people told me I'd be the last.- Michel Bastarache

He was hired in 2010 by Bathurst's bishop at the time, Valery Vienneau, who is now the Archbishop of Moncton. 

"At that time I thought it would be 30 people and only two priests involved, but I interviewed 90 people," said Bastarache.

The victims reported sexual abuse by a total of 26 priests in the diocese.

The former judge testified in the civil lawsuit between the Bathurst diocese and the Aviva Insurance company. The church is suing Aviva for more than $7 million, the amount of money it paid out to victims of sexual abuse.

Aviva argues it has no obligation to pay that money to the church because the company says the church knew children and teens were being molested by priests for decades and did nothing about it. 

Three victims told Bastarache at some point they'd reported abuses to a bishop, and two or three others told him they'd reported abuses during confession.
Moncton Archbishop Valéry Vienneau originally hired Michel Bastarache in previous role as the bishop of the Bathurst diocese. (Kate Letterick/CBC)

Emotional reports by victims

Bastarache told the court victims were emotional when telling him their stories of abuse. 

"Suddenly they'd break out crying, I'd have to stop and come back and ask the same question three or four times," said Bastarache.

"Some were mad ... some were desperate," he said with emotion to the court, "Some angry."

To ensure anonymity, Bastarache said he is the only one who knows the names of the victims who received compensation, and the victims are only identified to the diocese by a number. 

Compensation formula developed

Bastarache explained to the court he came up with a compensation formula based on a lot of research.

"I read all the cases I could find dealing with sexual assault and tried to identify the kind of abuse and the compensation,' he said.

He interviewed each victim that came forward, and he would cross-reference their claims of abuse. Bastarache then determined how much each person would receive based on the nature of assault, age, and number of incidents. 

Bastarache told the court he is "convinced" the compensation process was fair to the victims and to the diocese.

"I thought he [Vienneau] was very courageous," he said, referring to the compensation process. Bastarache said Vienneau went ahead with the process despite pushback from parishioners who didn't want money they helped raise go towards paying out victims of abuse.