B.C. turned 'a blind eye and a deaf ear' to guard's sexual abuse of inmates, suit alleges

Systemic failures by the B.C. government led to the sexual abuse of more than 200 inmates by a single prison guard, an alleged victim charges in a new lawsuit.

John Zeitsoff filed suit Tuesday against the province's attorney general and convicted sex offender Roderic David MacDougall.

The suit focuses on "the gravity and scope of the province's failure ... to investigate, prevent and report the sexual assaults committed by Mr. MacDougall on inmates and its ongoing failure to establish any independent processes to address the reporting and investigation of sexual assaults within its correctional facilities," according to a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

Zeitsoff alleges he was sexually assaulted by MacDougall in 1996 and 1997 while he was an inmate at Alouette River Correctional Centre. He's asking for his claim to be certified as a representative proceeding on behalf of at least 60 other alleged victims who have filed suits alleging abuse by MacDougall over his 21-year career.

That approach would "permit the court to examine the systemic negligence and breaches by the province," the claim suggests.

The lawsuit describes MacDougall as "one of Canada's most prolific sexual offenders" and lays out years of abuse that allegedly went unaddressed and uninvestigated by his superiors.

Now 65, MacDougall was convicted in 2000 of sexual assault, indecent assault and extortion against B.C. inmates, and sentenced to three years and seven months in prison.

According to Zeitsoff's claim, RCMP recommended further charges in 2002 and then again in 2010, but both times the B.C. Prosecution Service declined to approve them.

To date, more than 200 former inmates have sued the province and MacDougall, alleging he sexually assaulted them while they were in custody. About half of those lawsuits have been settled so far, but the rest have yet to go to trial.

'It was nice while it lasted'

MacDougall began working as a correctional officer in 1976. Over the course of his career, he worked at several correctional facilities in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, including Oakalla Prison in Burnaby, Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, Surrey Pre-Trial Justice Centre and Alouette River Correctional Centre, also in Maple Ridge.

Former inmates at all of those facilities have alleged they were sexually assaulted and intimidated into believing their safety would be at risk if they complained.

MacDougall resigned from the correctional service in 1997 while under investigation. In his resignation letter, he wrote "it was nice while it lasted," according to the claim.

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The suit says the guard targeted younger inmates, and there were widespread rumours about what was happening.

During MacDougall's time at Oakalla in the 80s, his senior officer arranged for the solid wood door on MacDougall's office to be replaced with one that had a window, in order to "deter and prevent Mr. MacDougall from sexually assaulting the young inmates," the claim says.

Instead, MacDougall allegedly used a file folder or a large envelope to cover the window so he could continue the abuse.

None of the allegations in his notice of claim have been proven in court. Neither MacDougall nor the province have filed responses, and neither could be reached for comment Thursday night.

'Egregious, systematic, long term and wrongful' failures

Zeitsoff's suit claims that during MacDougall's time working in the correctional system, there was a culture of tolerating and ignoring violence and sexual abuse.

"The pattern encouraged by [B.C.] Corrections was to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to sexual and physical assaults on inmates by either other inmates or by correctional officers, in order to protect the reputation of Corrections at the expense of inmates," the claim says.

As a result, those affected have been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts and nightmares, among other lingering problems, according to the suit.

"Many of the victims of Mr. MacDougall have developed addictions and have become suicidal. Yet despite this knowledge, corrections has not taken any steps to seek out and identify his victims or offer them any counselling assistance," the claim says.

Zeitsoff is asking for a range of damages for himself and the other alleged victims, suggesting the failures of the province are "so egregious, systematic, long term and wrongful" that a high monetary penalty is necessary to prevent something like this from happening again.

Read John Zeitsoff's legal claim: