$13-million class-action settlement approved for sexual abuse at N.L. youth homes

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A $12.8-million class-action settlement has been approved for victims of sexual abuse at youth facilities operated by the Newfoundland and Labrador government from 1973 to 1989.

The suit was led by three representative plaintiffs — one woman and two men — who said they were sexually assaulted by staff at institutions for young offenders and for youth in provincial care. Their names are protected by a publication ban.

The institutions involved in the class action include youth detention centres in the towns of Whitbourne and Torbay and in the capital city of St. John's. The provincial government is the sole defendant in the case.

Those eligible to file a claim may have faced abuse including naked beatings or sexual assault by staff, volunteers and other residents, according to a decision dated Aug. 31 by associate chief Justice Rosalie McGrath of the province's Supreme Court.

The settlement McGrath approved includes $12.5 million for claimants and administration fees, a $10,000 honorarium for each of the three plaintiffs and $250,000 to publicize the case so that others may come forward and make abuse claims.

"The representative plaintiffs have taken the brave action of stepping up to tell their own stories," McGrath wrote in her reasoning for granting them each a $10,000 honorarium. "While they are protected by the use of a pseudonym, they still risked public exposure of the details of their abuse and its aftermath."

The female plaintiff said she was sexually assaulted by three different staff members from 1979 to 1982 at a girls home, McGrath's decision said. A male plaintiff accused a priest from the boys institute in Whitbourne, N.L., of taking him to a cabin, drugging him and then sexually assaulting him. The other male alleged he was sexually assaulted "many times" by two guards at the Whitbourne school in 1974, McGrath wrote.

They filed their statement of claim in 2017, and the class action was certified two years later.

The Whitbourne facility is also the subject of another lawsuit against the Newfoundland and Labrador government, filed in November of 2021 with the province's Supreme Court. In that suit, a male plaintiff alleges he was sexually and physically abused at the institution between 2004 and 2008, when he was a teenager. By that time, the facility was renamed the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Centre.

His lawyer, Jennifer Helleur, said in an email Tuesday that the case is presently in the discovery stage.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2022.

The Canadian Press