New Brunswick

N.B. Catholic clergy sex assault report due soon

Retired Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache is preparing to give the Diocese of Bathurst his recommendations for compensation to victims who were sexually assaulted by Roman Catholic clergy in the Acadian peninsula.

Retired judge developed compensation scale for roughly 35 victims

Retired Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache is preparing to give the Diocese of Bathurst his recommendations for compensation to victims who were sexually assaulted by Roman Catholic clergy in the Acadian peninsula.

The Diocese of Bathurst hired the former Supreme Court of Canada justice earlier this year to speak to anyone in the church who was abused by any clergy in the diocese.

Bastarache was hired after Levi Noel, an 84-year-old former priest, was convicted of 22 sex-related offences and Charles Picot, a former priest who had worked in Dalhousie, was charged with indecent assault. Picot's trial has yet to take place.

Bastarache met with victims over the summer and will present his recommendations for compensation to the bishop of the diocese on Nov. 1.

The retired judge said in an interview he expects the diocese will give him approval after that meeting to hand over compensation to the victims. Once the church transfers him the funds he can then make the cheques to those individuals on the list.

Bastarache said in a meeting with the 45 people who came forward, it was revealed that other priests in the diocese were also accused of abuse.

"In actual fact there are a larger number of priests that are involved. I can't give the names, but the bishop will have to decide himself whether he wants to make public those names," Bastarache said.

The retired justice would not say how many clergy have been named by victims during his meetings but he said some have died.

As well, Bastarache said some of the victims named priests who are not in the Bathurst diocese and it will be up to the church leaders to contact the dioceses affected by those allegations to see if they would pay the compensation Bastarache is recommending.

He expects the compensation process can be done by the end of November or into December. When the review began, Bastarache said he wanted it to be concluded within six months, a timeframe that he suggests is still achievable.

The diocese would not comment on the findings.

Compensation package

Bastarache is not commenting on how much he is calling for the victims to receive in compensation. 

When coming up with a compensation system, Bastarache said he created a unique process that sets out a scale for potential payment.

The retired judge said he set up five categories of alleged assaults that range from unwanted touching to sexual assault. He then created subcategories that dealt with the long-term consequences of the assaults, such as the individual's inability to finish school, whether they were able to hold a job or, in some cases, their decision to attempt suicide.

He then reviewed various legal precedents for compensation given to other sexual assault victims to come up with a payment range.

"My objective was to provide a compensation that would resemble as much as possible what would be obtained in a court process. But I didn't have a budget or anything like that," he said.

"I just proceeded that way and make a calculation for all of my victims and come up with a number and I give that to the bishop and say can you transfer that much money to me to make these compensation offers."

Bastarache said it will be up to the church to decide to release how much money will be paid out to the victims.

Bastarache will not reveal how much he thinks the church should pay out. But he said the process will save the victims from a long legal battle.

"This offers, I think, the best offer of coming to fair solution and permitting all of these people to get compensation without the need to identify themselves, to go to court, to testify, which I think would have been extremely difficult for a large number of people that I have met," Bastarache said.

The diocese, however, will still face a court challenge. 

Of the roughly 45 people who met with Bastarache, he said nine of the victims opted not to participate in conciliation and they are launching lawsuits instead.

Confidentiality promise

During the process, Bastarache promised the victims confidentiality. He met with the individuals, reviewed their medical files and hired an outside psychologist to assist in the assessment.

The church will not be given the names of the individuals involved, instead they will only see the number of victims and where they fit into the scale established by Bastarache.

Once he hands out the compensation cheques, Bastarache said he will destroy the files to assure the victims of confidentiality.