Nova Scotia

Settlement close in Dartmouth home alleged abuse case

A settlement is in the works in a class-action lawsuit against the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children that involves more than 100 claimants.

More than 100 former residents allege they suffered years of abuse

The Home for Colored Children first opened in 1921 as an orphanage for black Nova Scotian children. (CBC)

A settlement is in the works in a class-action lawsuit against the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children that involves more than 100 claimants.  

Those claimants allege they suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse while they were residents of the home.   

A spokesperson for Wagners law firm, which is representing the claimants, said the major terms of the civil case against the home have been agreed upon.

The firm is still pursuing action against the Province of Nova Scotia, which oversaw the home.  

The firm's spokesperson was confident a settlement will be reached, but said claimants will wait a long time to receive compensation. Any money granted will be held until after business with the province has been settled.  

"The apology is very important, the money aspect of it is symbolic of the apology. It's never ever going to replace the childhood that we missed, the abuse that we suffered — no amount of money can ever bring that back," said Tony Smith, a former resident of the orphanage. 

"This adds more sincerity to the apology."

Tony Smith was once a resident at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. (CBC)

John Kulik, the lawyer representing the home, said negotiations in the civil case are ongoing.  

"They are on the road to a settlement but we could still be knocked off the road," he said.  

Kulik said he's optimistic a settlement will be reached within the next two weeks.  

Veronica Marsman, who was executive director of the home, has said she has no knowledge of staff abusing residents and instead alleges it may have been the children themselves who physically, sexually and mentally abused each other, according to an affidavit filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court last month.

Marsman said that with the exception of individual claims and media reports, she was only aware of one incident through the home's records in which a staff member was alleged to have had sexual contact with a 16-year-old girl, and that was in 1983. The accused staff member was suspended and eventually fired, the affidavit said.

"It is never possible to prevent all such abuse in a residential environment, but it was carefully monitored in accordance with standards at the time," Marsman said in the affidavit.

The Home for Colored Children opened in 1921 as an orphanage for black Nova Scotian children.

Last March, RCMP formed a special investigative team to look into abuse allegations and asked people to come forward.

Forty complainants came forward, who are now living in several provinces including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. The team visited the witnesses in each location.

In December, the RCMP said the evidence collected was not enough to support criminal charges.  

The home is currently a short-term centre for foster children of all races and cultures. The home also provides outreach services to vulnerable families in the African Nova Scotian community.

According to the home's website, the main funding for the centre comes from the province's Department of Community Services. Additional funding comes from the home's annual telethon and donations from the community