$10M settlement approved for sexual abuse survivors of Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth

Steven Gallant outside the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Monday.  (Gareth Hampshire/CBC - image credit)
Steven Gallant outside the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Monday. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC - image credit)

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia approved a $10-million settlement Monday for survivors of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.

The class-action lawsuit was brought by people who allege sexual abuse by priests dating back nearly 70 years. The lead plaintiff in the action, 62-year-old Steven Gallant, said no amount of money could make up for the lifelong burden of being a sexual abuse victim.

"It's always with you and I think along with your own inner turmoil, you also worry about all the others you know are probably out there suffering as well," Gallant said.

Gallant was abused when he was 14. He was an altar boy in the 1970s and the priest who was responsible for his abuse was eventually criminally convicted.

Gallant said he believes his efforts can make the church safer.

"That's certainly the hope," Gallant said.

The judge who approved the settlement noted Gallant's courage in coming forward.

"Mr. Gallant, you have been living with this for decades. It takes a lot of courage, resolve and determination. I have to commend you for everything you have done. I hope at the end of this you receive some type of closure. I wish you all the best," Justice Christa Brothers told Gallant in court.

As part of the settlement, the Archdiocese Halifax-Dartmouth will pay survivors between $30,000 and $350,000.

Gallant's lawyer, John McKiggan, said the process holds "the diocese accountable for what happened in the past and creates a means by which survivors can come forward in a respectful and confidential process to have their claims dealt with."

McKiggan said most victims were children when they suffered abuse, claims that could date back to 1954. He said most survivors are now seniors, some in their 80s. He estimated as many as 90 people could come forward.

"They do have from the date the claims process begins, which will be likely January, they will have one year to come forward and make their claims," McKiggan said.

In a statement on Monday, the church said there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of any kind — past, present or future.

"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. It is a hard thing to do, but it is the right thing to do," said Rev. Brian J. Dunn, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.