Settlement reached in class-action lawsuit against convicted ex-priest who abused First Nations youth
Ralph Rowe is believed to have abused up to 500 children in northern Ontario, Manitoba
WARNING: This article contains details of sexual abuse.
A multi-million dollar settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit against a former priest convicted of 75 sexual crimes, his employer, the Anglican Church's Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin, and Scouts Canada.
Ralph Rowe, now in his 80s, is a former Anglican priest and Scoutmaster. First Nations leaders and mental health professionals believe Rowe abused as many as 500 children in northern communities in Ontario and Manitoba during the 1970s and 80s.
The parties involved in the class-action, first launched in 2017, agreed to a $13.25 million settlement on Monday. This would provide up to $350,000 in compensation for each class member who was sexually assaulted by Rowe between 1975 and 1987 within the geographic boundaries of the Diocese of Keewatin.
Alvin McKay, a member of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, is the representative plaintiff in the lawsuit. The statement of claim from 2017 says McKay was sexually assaulted at least three times by Rowe over a two-year period, beginning when McKay was five. He is being represented by Koskie Minsky LLP.
Initially, the class action sought $110 million in damages.
A final approval hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27 at the Thunder Bay Courthouse, which will determine if the proposed settlement is fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of class members.
In 2017, the Anglican Church of Canada said it would commit to confronting the "legacy of brokenness" created by Rowe in northern communities.
'A major milestone in this case'
"The proposed settlement is a major milestone in this case. Ralph Rowe was one of the worst and most prolific abusers in the history of this country. His abuse was devastating to Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario and Eastern Manitoba," Koskie Minsky LLP said in an emailed statement to CBC News.
"If approved, the settlement will [provide] real compensation to survivors of abuse committed by Rowe through a trauma-informed and sensitive claims process," it says.
Rowe was first convicted of 39 sexual crimes in 1994 and sentenced to six years in prison, but served less than five years. Additional convictions came in 2005 and 2009.
Following a guilty plea in 2012, Rowe faced a two-year conditional sentence to be served under house arrest. By the time the class-action lawsuit was filed in 2017, Rowe had a total of 75 convictions.
"As part of the settlement, Scouts Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada have agreed to apology processes for survivors and communities. After many years of hard-fought litigation, we believe that this is an excellent settlement that we hope will assist survivors on their healing journeys," says Koskie Minsky LLP.
There are two ways eligible class members can get compensation:
- A simplified claims process that may pay compensation between $30,000 and $140,000, depending on the severity of abuse and the number of claimants.
- A more intensive claims process for certain claims that may pay compensation of up to $350,000, depending on the severity of abuse and the number of claimants.
Class members can receive free legal advice about the class-action lawsuit from lawyers at Koskie Minsky LLP.