Nova Scotia

Former N.S. prison guard who claimed innocence on sex allegations now facing 13 charges

A former prison guard accused in a civil lawsuit of sexually assaulting seven inmates at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., now faces 13 criminal charges, including six counts of sexual assault.

Brian Wilson, who used to work at the Nova Institution for Women, also named in civil case involving 7 women

Brian Wilson worked at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., for 10 years. (CBC)

A former prison guard accused in a civil lawsuit of sexually assaulting seven inmates at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., now faces 13 criminal charges, including six counts of sexual assault.

In March 2019, Truro police received a complaint that Brian Wilson had inappropriate relationships with "several female inmates," according to a news release issued on Thursday.

After the yearlong investigation, Wilson has been charged with six counts of sexual assault, six counts of breach of trust and one count of communication for the purpose of obtaining sexual services. 

He has been brought before a justice of the peace and released on conditions, police said. Wilson's next court appearance is Aug. 12 in Truro provincial court.

It's unclear whether the complainants in the criminal case are the same women involved in the civil suit.

Previous denial

In an interview with CBC News last year, Wilson choked back tears as he denied allegations that he abused his authority. He claimed to be "totally blindsided" by the lawsuit, while his wife, Lisa Digdon, held his hand and vehemently defended him.

Although Digdon said her husband continues to dispute the inmate's accounts, she has changed her position. She now believes them.

"I am happy that the women are being heard," she said. "And I'm extremely angry that I was so deceived."

Initially, three women sued the federal correctional service last May, alleging they were sexually assaulted by Wilson at the prison. Over the next few months, four more inmates joined the civil lawsuit.

The allegations in both the criminal case and civil lawsuit have not been tested in court.

Lisa Digdon and her husband, Brian Wilson, spoke to CBC News a year ago. At the time, Wilson said he had been wrongly accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit involving inmates at the Nova Institution for women. (CBC)

Digdon was also a correctional officer at the Nova Institution until she quit her job last spring in support of her husband. At the time, Wilson had recently resigned after being investigated and suspended by his employer, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), for sexual allegations made by inmates.

Digdon only started having doubts about Wilson's accounts last December. She said she is overcome with guilt for not believing the women sooner.

"As [correctional] officers, we're supposed to show them [to be] truthful and do what is right and we're supposed to teach them how to become contributing members of society," said Digdon.

"I hope these women get everything they deserve for what they had to go through."

Charges 'vindicating' for complainants: advocate

Emma Halpern, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, originally met some of the women at the Nova Institution through her role as regional advocate with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

She became aware of the allegations early last year, and said it's taken a lot of courage for the complainants to not only go up against an alleged perpetrator, but the entire correctional system.

"They've done so with a lot of fear, and a lot of trepidation, and … a  feeling that they wouldn't be believed, so this is vindicating for them," Halpern said Thursday.

"They've been believed, and then this has been properly and thoroughly investigated."

Emma Halpern is the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia. (CBC)

It's important to recognize the vast majority of women in prisons have dealt with abuse in the past, Halpern said, putting themselves in an even more vulnerable position while being physically trapped in the same place as their abuser.

Halpern said the case shines a light on the correctional system's inability to protect women in their federal prisons, especially given the allegation these assaults went on for many years.

Civil case doesn't depend on charges

Mike Dull, a Halifax lawyer representing the women, said the new criminal charges support the credibility of his clients, but their civil suit "doesn't rise and fall" on them being laid.

The lawsuit doesn't have to wait while the criminal case goes through the courts, since Dull said it's filed against CSC and not Wilson himself.

Dull said the case is still in the early stages. At the moment, his firm is gathering records on behalf of their clients for eventual disclosure, and he said CSC is doing the same.

Lawyer says corrections knew about allegations in 2012

The women allege CSC is liable for the alleged assaults since they occurred at a federal facility, CSC placed the guard in a position of authority over the women and they allege the institution was negligent.

There are indications the first woman to come forward reported "sexual improprieties" by the guard back in 2012, according to Dull.

When speaking to CBC in May 2019, Wilson said he wasn't the only correctional officer wrongly accused of a crime.

"I'm definitely not the only one going through this at this institution. I'm just at the top of the list right now," he said at the time. 

Dull said people who systematically abuse positions of trust tend to pick on people who they think won't be believed, or won't have the courage to come forward.

It's unclear whether the complainants in the criminal case are the same women involved in the civil suit alleging a guard at the Nova Institution for Women sexually assaulted them. (The Canadian Press)

The civil lawsuit takes aim at the perception that incarcerated women won't come forward when a wrong is done to them, Dull said.

"My hope is that by these women speaking out and doing something about it, that it sort of creates incentive for others who may find themselves in similar circumstances to find the courage to do the same," he said.

Dull said the women are seeking a financial sum that will be a "symbolic acknowledgement" they were wronged by the guard that CSC put in charge of them, as well as the institution for failing to take appropriate steps to keep them safe.

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About the Author

Angela MacIvor is CBC Nova Scotia's investigative reporter. She has been with CBC since 2006 as a reporter and producer in all three Maritime provinces. All news tips welcome. Send an email to cbcnsinvestigates@cbc.ca

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