$10-million settlement reached with Roman Catholic Church in N.S. sexual abuse case

HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia court has approved a $10-million settlement to conclude a class-action lawsuit that alleged Roman Catholic clergy with the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth had sexually abused children for decades.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers approved the settlement Monday, four years after the lawsuit was filed.

The allegations date back to 1954. Most of the survivors are now seniors.

“While the class-action suit is a constant reminder of the damage and great hurt that has been inflicted on individuals by members of the clergy, it is necessary to provide an opportunity for justice and healing for all victims," Most Rev. Brian J. Dunn, the archbishop of the diocese, said in a statement released Monday.

"It is a hard thing to do, but it is the right thing to do."

The statement said the archdiocese has "zero tolerance for sexual abuse of any kind — past, present or future."

Lawyer John McKiggan said the settlement will pay about 90 survivors between $30,000 and $350,000 each.

A number of people have already come forward to be part of the class action. The total number of eligible claimants is an estimate based on expert evidence and data collected from the American College of Catholic Bishops, McKiggan said in an interview Tuesday.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Steven Gallant, was a 14-year-old altar boy in the 1970s when he was abused by a priest who was later convicted of the crime.

The settlement does not include 50 previous lawsuits that have already been settled with the archdiocese.

The archdiocese comprises two episcopal corporations: one based in Halifax, the other in Yarmouth. The Halifax-based corporation will pay $8.15 million toward the latest settlement, and the Yarmouth branch will pay $1.85 million, McKiggan said.

The claims process opens in January. Those seeking a share have one year to come forward.

"The judge wanted to start the clock ticking as soon as possible," McKiggan said. "There will be no appeal because all of the parties consent to this agreement."

When the suit was first filed on Aug. 2, 2018, the lead plaintiff at the time was Douglas Champagne. He alleged that he had been sexually abused by the late priest George Epoch of the Canadian Martyrs parish in the 1960s. Epoch was a member of the Jesuit religious order.

At the time, McKiggan alleged the assaults were part of a "larger systemic pattern of the Catholic Church worldwide having a policy of covering up and keeping quiet any allegation of sexual abuse against a priest."

Champagne was later replaced by Gallant as the lead plaintiff to avoid a dispute over the Jesuits' relationship with the archdiocese, McKiggan said.

The Jesuits later agreed to be solely responsible for Champagne's claim, he said.

The class action was certified on March 31, 2020.

McKiggan, a Halifax-based lawyer, has been representing survivors of historical sexual abuse for more than 30 years. He acted on behalf of sexual abuse victims in a $16-million settlement with the Diocese of Antigonish in 2009.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2022.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press