Lawsuit eyed over abuse claims at former Nova Scotia schools for the deaf

A Halifax law firm is launching a suit against the Nova Scotia government, alleging it failed to properly protect students at two provincially-run schools for the hearing impaired.

Nova Scotia government facing proposed class action over 2 provincially-run schools

A Halifax law firm is trying to launch a class-action lawsuit involving former schools for the deaf in Amherst (pictured) and Halifax. (CBC)

A Halifax law firm is trying to launch a class-action lawsuit against the Nova Scotia government, alleging it failed to properly protect students at two provincially-run schools for the hearing impaired.

The proposed lawsuit spans the time from 1913 to 1995, when the last of the segregated schools was shut down. There were two so-called schools for the deaf, one in Halifax and one in Amherst. The latter drew students from across Atlantic Canada.

"Many of these children were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by agents, employees and servants of the Province and by other students at the Schools," lawyer Ray Wagner writes in his legal notice, filed Wednesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

"The institution-wide abuse and mistreatment included battery and assault (including of a sexual nature) and unlawful confinement to an abusive and neglectful environment."

Two men, Richard Robert Martell and Michael Harry Gerald Perrier, are named as lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

None of the allegations have been tested in court. But this is not the first time these schools have been subjects of legal action.

Another class action was proposed in 2010 by Merchant Law group of Saskatchewan. Two other men were named as lead plaintiffs in that action. But there's no indication it has proceeded beyond the initial filing.

60 people signed up

There have also been criminal allegations against staff at the schools over the years.

Wagner said a lot of people have already expressed interest in joining this proposed class action.

"We held a town hall meeting at the Halifax library where there were approximately 80 people had attended to listen to what we were saying and proposing with a class action," Wagner told CBC News.

"And already at this early stage we have 60 people that have signed up."

Wagner's firm also launched a class-action lawsuit on behalf of former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children, alleging they were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

"It is amazing at this early stage in this litigation how similar it was to the early stage of the Nova Scotia home litigation," Wagner said.

The province agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement in the Home for Coloured Children case.

"We're hearing the same stories, the same narrative," Wagner said. "It is a very common experience, both by people in the school for the deaf and the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured children."

Wagner said people wanting to join the lawsuit over the schools for the deaf will have to be patient. He said the suit must wait two months before the next step is taken, and he predicts any litigation is still many months away.