Nfld. & Labrador

Mount Cashel abuse settlement sets stage for more suits

Lawyers for victims of abuse at the notorious Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's say Thursday's settlement with the Christian Brothers doesn't end long-running legal battles.

Focus moves now to lawsuits against Roman Catholic organizations, government

The Mount Cashel Orphanage, seen in 1989 when a scandal broke about systemic sexual abuse at the instution, was demolished three years later. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Lawyers for scores of victims of abuse at the notorious Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's say Thursday's settlement with the Christian Brothers of Ireland does not end their clients' legal battles, but at least marks a major milestone in a years-long campaign for justice.

The Christian Brothers of Ireland settled with 422 people across North America who claimed abuse at the hands of the lay Roman Catholic order, including 160 from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mount Cashel timeline

1989: News breaks about allegations of sexual abuse at Mount Cashel, a Roman Catholic institution that cares for wards of the state, including a 1975 police investigation that was quashed.

1990: Mount Cashel closes.

1991: Retired justice Samuel Hughes completes an inquiry into the failure of the justice and social services systems, largely involving Mount Cashel.

1992: Mount Cashel is demolished. The property is later converted for a Sobeys supermarket.

1993: The last of nine Christian Brothers involved in the first wave of allegations of abuse are convicted of crimes that includes sexual assault and assault.

1996: The Newfoundland and Labrador government settles with about 40 claimants at Mount Cashel. By this point, the police have broadened investigations into claims of abuse dating as far back as the 1940s. 

2003: An Ontario court awards about $16 million to 83 Mount Cashel claimants.

The vast majority of those 160 men had been residents at Mount Cashel, a prominent institution that ran for more than a century in the east end of St. John's before a sexual abuse scandal erupted in 1989, triggering a harrowing public inquiry and a series of criminal convictions.

The settlement is worth more than $16.5 million, which will be put into a trust.

"This is not nearly enough money to fully satisfy 400 claims," said Geoff Budden, who represented about 90 clients, most of whom were residents of Mount Cashel.

"However, most of those claimants will be able to take the money they'll get out of this and continue lawsuits against other parties. And that's true right across North America."

Budden and other lawyers in Newfoundland and Labrador, for instance, are pursuing litigation against parties that include the Archdiocese of St. John's, the Episcopal Corporation of St. John's, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

The court battle to obtain compensation from the Christian Brothers of Ireland is just one in a marathon set of legal actions that have been underway for years.

Budden first filed papers on this suit in 1999.

Budden said the court action was successful for the claimants in obtaining what was available.

"We succeeded in getting most of [those assets], 90 per cent or more. There's nothing left for [legal] costs. It's all accounted for," he said.

Budden added that the Christian Brothers of Ireland can now "go on with their mission [of] looking after the elderly brothers with what assets they have left, and the rest of the assets will be distributed among the claimants."

'Come to the table,' lawyer tells government

Bob Buckingham, a St. John's lawyer who represents some of the claimants, said the victory is bittersweet.

St. John's lawyer Bob Buckingham started pursuing litigation against the Christian Brothers in 1996. (CBC)

"We can put this one behind us and move on to the next step," said Buckingham, who has been representing clients on the Christian Brothers case since 1996.

"I certainly wish the government and the church would really come to the table and deal with things. But I would like to see a process in place, where responsibility is accepted, appropriate apologies are made and adequate funds are put in place for the survivors."

The next steps involving Thursday's announcement will include distributing proceeds to claimants.

Victim pleased with outcome

One of the victims in the lawsuit, a former Mount Cashel resident, said Thursday's legal settlement with the Irish Christian Brothers will give him closure.

John Doe, whose real name is protected by a court order, lived at the orphanage in the late 1950s and early '60s, and he now lives in the United States. 

Doe, now in his sixties, said both he and his deceased brother were physically and sexually abused in the orphanage.

"He would have been very pleased to see the outcome of this. and to continue in our endeavour to prosecute the criminal," said Doe of his brother. "It's a very good thing that this is happening, and we're all very pleased and I think he would have been pleased as well."

The man said he was unsure how much of the $16.5-million settlement he will receive.

He added that he has also read a letter of apology written by church officials to victims of abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers.

"If I could have it personally signed by the leader of the Catholic Church, that would be even better," said Doe.

"They [Roman Catholic leaders] are all supporting a situation where they condoned sexual and physical abuse over the years. They should own up to their responsibilities."

Payments to victims are not expected to be finalized until next year. 

The Mount Cashel Orphanage, which was the subject of the Hughes inquiry into the failure of the justice and social services systems, closed in 1990. It was demolished two years later, and was eventually replaced by a supermarket.