Nova Scotia

2 law firms exploring civil suits in Wayne Hankey assault allegations

Two Halifax law firms are exploring the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit related to claims of sexual assault against former university professor Wayne Hankey, who is already facing two sexual assault charges and one count of indecent assault.

Retired Halifax university professor already facing 2 sex assault charges, 1 count of indecent assault

Wayne Hankey delivers a lecture on the steps of the University of King's College library in 2011. (CBC)

Two Halifax law firms are exploring the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit related to claims of sexual assault against former university professor Wayne Hankey.

McKiggan Hebert and Wagners Law Firm are both working with people who have come forward as possible complainants.

Hankey, 76, who taught at both the University of King's College and Dalhousie University for decades, is already facing three criminal charges.

Two are sexual assault charges — one in connection with an incident that occurred on the King's campus in 1988 and another that dates back to 1982 — and the third is an indecent assault charge related to multiple incidents that took place between 1977 and 1979.

He has pleaded not guilty to one charge, and has yet to be arraigned on the other two.

John McKiggan said his law firm, McKiggan Hebert, has been contacted by a number of people in relation to incidents involving Hankey, and has been retained by at least one person.

McKiggan said it is still unclear whether the potential complainants will decide to go through the criminal court, civil action or even a class action, but he is actively investigating the possibility of a class action.

"My job is to provide advice and to assist where I can, but the decisions are ultimately up to the survivors," he said Wednesday.

McKiggan declined to say who a civil case might name but said, "the evidence that's out there certainly suggests that there is the possibility of liability on other parties."

Previous allegations

Hankey retired from King's and Dalhousie in 2015, but continued teaching courses at Dalhousie until the first sexual assault charge was announced on Feb. 1.

That charge was not the first time the universities heard allegations of sexual abuse involving Hankey.

In late 1990, a former King's student came forward to the Anglican Church alleging that Hankey, who was an Anglican minister at the time, had abused him in the late 1970s. The church investigated and in 1991 stripped Hankey of his religious office.

The complaint was forwarded to King's, which conducted its own investigation and suspended him for one year as a result.

King's, Dalhousie could be sued

Ray Wagner of Wagners Law Firm said King's and Dalhousie would be named in any civil action also naming Hankey.

He said he has been in touch with a potential complainant, and the firm is investigating the prospects of a civil action.

The University of King's College has commissioned an independent, third-party review into allegations against Hankey. (University of King's College Archives)

Wagner said it's too early to know whether the civil cases would lead to a class action, but he expects that more people could come forward.

"People get empowered by the fact that others — the brave ones — have broken the ice and have come forward and put their names out as victims to this and put their circumstances out there. It does empower people."

Wagner said for victims, filing an individual civil case may yield greater monetary compensation, while a class action can offer more privacy to those who don't feel comfortable sharing the details of their experiences.

A reckoning for post-secondary schools?

For years, allegations of abuse have rippled through institutions such as churches, residential schools, the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and Nova Scotia's schools for the deaf.

Wagner said there could be a reckoning coming for post-secondary institutions that turned a blind eye to misconduct, or "sexual relations" between professors and students.

"People are looking a little bit further and, you know, to say, OK, is this also rampant in the universities?" he said.

"What all the universities have to be worried about now is that these are power arrangements, and any time you have a power situation where somebody has power over another individual and you engage in sexual relations of whatever kind, then that's very problematic, and it's not tolerated these days."

King's has announced that a third-party review will be conducted to determine the facts of the incidents, figure out what authorities at the school knew and what actions they took, and make recommendations on how the university should respond.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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