Nova Scotia

Dexter pressed to call N.S. orphanage abuse inquiry

Nova Scotia's opposition parties are stepping up their call for a public inquiry into allegations of abuse at a former orphanage.

Opposition, board of directors support move

The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is at the centre of a lawsuit and a controversy, with allegations of physical and sexual abuse stretching back decades. (CBC)

The province's opposition parties are stepping up their call for a public inquiry into allegations of abuse at a former Nova Scotia orphanage.

The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children issued a statement Monday saying the board was disturbed by recent allegations of physical and sexual abuse being made against several former staff members and said they have no objections to an inquiry going ahead.

The opposition parties said that should be enough to convince the governing NDP to call one.

"I think it certainly underlines the need for an inquiry now. They realize it. They don't have any problem with it. And that gives us some comfort in what we're doing," said Liberal MLA Kelly Regan.

Abuse allegations against staff at the home in Halifax — now a short-term residential facility for children of all races — first surfaced more than a decade ago, but no charges have been laid.

Class-action lawsuit

Earlier this year, 63 former residents applied for a class-action lawsuit against the home and the provincial government, and a certification hearing was held in October.

More than 100 people are now part of the bid for a class action and a court ruling is expected next June.

The majority of the claims date back decades, almost to the home's inception as an orphanage in 1921.

The RCMP recently said they are investigating complaints of abuse against former staff members.

The affidavits in the court action have been the focus of a series of published reports that have prompted calls for a public inquiry.

"Some of the people who have come forward may not be alive at the end of this civil process. This could take till 2020. We think it's incumbent upon the government to move now," said Regan.

Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie agreed.

"If the government is the only one left, then hopefully they will see that the right thing to do is to call that public inquiry and get to the root causes," he said.

Dexter worried about cost

Premier Darrell Dexter said his government doesn't want one to interfere with the police work or deny anyone any compensation.

"We just want to make sure that any decision we make is appropriate, that the response is appropriate, because let's remember that inquiries of that nature can be extraordinarily expensive on top of everything else," he said.

Dexter won't say how long his government will continue mull over calling an inquiry.

The home's role has evolved over the years. It became a more modern residential centre in 1978, eventually expanding its services to promote the health and well-being of children and families within Nova Scotia's black community in particular.