'Difficult, but we have to deal with them': N.L. government facing about 75 outstanding abuse claims

'Difficult, but we have to deal with them': N.L. government facing about 75 outstanding abuse claims

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says there are about 75 active abuse cases involving the Newfoundland and Labrador government — and the vast majority of the civil lawsuits are historical in nature.

"They come from cases involving government institutions, foster care. And they're all difficult, but we have to deal with them," he said.

"These cases, we've seen that they seem to be increasing. That might speak to people being more willing to report, which is not something you want to discourage, but as a department and as a government, you have to handle it as it comes to you."

Parsons says that, unlike other civil lawsuits, there's no statute of limitations placed on cases of sexual abuse.

"We're paying now for what's gone on years and years ago, but the fact is the liability remains with government," he said.

Parsons says many of these cases end up in settlement negotiations, for a variety of factors.

He notes the highest-ever settlement that the province has paid in an abuse case is $800,000.

The provincial government recently admitted liability and agreed to pay a settlement of $750,000 to "John Doe," a teenager who was abused by a social worker in the 1980s.

Takes cases 'very seriously'

When asked how long this process could go on in dealing with civil lawsuits stemming from abuse, Parsons says it's hard to tell, because each case is different.

"When you're looking at something that happened decades ago, corroborating this is a difficult matter. Being sensitive is very difficult. There's a real balance here," Parsons said, noting that he would never do anything to discourage someone from coming forward to talk about what they've endured.

Parsons said he reviews all the settlement files that cross his desk.

"I wish we didn't have to see another single case of abuse because when you read just one of these, they're horrible. They're young people's lives that were taken from them. And it's not just something then — it affects them forever," he said. 

"When you read, just the abuse that was suffered, [done] by people in positions of trust, it's sickening to read."

Parsons said the province has a responsibility to those who were in its care.

"Steps have been taken over the years to make this a much more rare occurrence," he said.

"We need to do what we can to promote healing, so that's a part of this process too."