City of Saint John presents no evidence in Estabrooks case

·3 min read
Kenneth Estabrooks was found guilty in 1999 of indecent assault. He was sentenced to six years in prison. A class-action lawsuit by victims alleges the city is liable for damages.  ( - image credit)
Kenneth Estabrooks was found guilty in 1999 of indecent assault. He was sentenced to six years in prison. A class-action lawsuit by victims alleges the city is liable for damages. ( - image credit)

Lawyers for the City of Saint John closed their case on Tuesday — without hearing any testimony from witnesses.

The legal team had planned to call two defence witnesses this week, but neither ended up testifying because of objections from the plaintiffs' side.

The city's lawyer, Michael Brenton, told the court the defence will rely on case law, rather than any evidence they had planned to call.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for June 22.

The class-action lawsuit alleges the city is responsible for damages caused to alleged victims of former police sergeant Kenneth Estabrooks, who was transferred from the police force to the works department in 1975, after he admitted to a consensual sexual relationship with two teenaged boys.

After his first witness was "stood down" on Monday, Brenton tried to call his second defence witness Tuesday morning.

Graham Thompson/CBC News
Graham Thompson/CBC News

The city's legal team brought in a criminology professor from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia to testify about how police forces work and the relationship between departments and municipalities.

Justice William Grant declared Curt Griffiths an expert in criminology specializing in the historical organization and management of police forces, but he rejected the report Griffiths prepared for the city. The judge agreed with the plaintiffs' lawyer, Celeste Poltak, that the report is not necessary to the case.

In her argument to the court, she said the plaintiffs don't plan to impugn the original police investigation of 1975. She repeated that the negligence case centres on the period between 1975 and 1983 — after Estabrooks left the police force and before he retired from the works department.

"This matter is not about policing," Poltak said.

Nor, she said, is it about the conduct of the police force.

The city is also being sued for vicarious liability for the harm perpetrated by Estabrooks from 1953, when he became a police officer, to 1983, when he retired from his works department job with the city.

Monday, Brenton tried to call current Saint John Police Chief Robert Bruce, but he was "stood down" after the plaintiffs' legal team objected to his testimony.

Without testimony from Griffiths, Brenton said he couldn't call the chief.

Last week, the class-action lawsuit heard testimony from five men ranging in age from 58 to 66. They said Estabrooks preyed upon them when they were boys in Saint John.

The only one that can be named is the representative plaintiff, Bobby Hayes.

Hayes said he was first sexually assaulted by Estabrooks in 1970 as a 10-year-old and many other times over the next three or four years.

Hayes also alleged that he was sexually assaulted again by Estabrooks as a young man, when they were both employed by the city works department, and that supervisors simply advised him to "move faster" to avoid being assaulted.

First cases consensual: City

In his opening statement on Monday, Brenton said the police force became aware of Estabrooks's inappropriate sexual relationships with two teenage boys in 1975.

He said neither boy — then aged 15 and 17 — made any allegations of criminal activity.

At the time, the age of consent was 14.

Brenton said a Crown prosecutor reviewed the file and determined that the sexual relationships were consensual. That means the relationships were not considered illegal under the Criminal Code as it existed in 1975.

But, said Brenton, Estabrooks did admit to having a sexual encounter in a police car, which was contrary to the rules and regulations of the force, and he agreed to resign.

He was then transferred to the city's works department, where he finished his career in 1983.

According to the statement of claim, the city should be responsible for damages the plaintiffs' experienced as a result of being sexually abused by Estabrooks.

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