Compensation for sexual assaults 'could well be a challenge,' King's College president says

The University of King's College in Halifax. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
The University of King's College in Halifax. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

In the wake of a report documenting allegations of sexual abuse and assault by a former University of King's College professor, the school has said some of the victims may be entitled to compensation.

But how does that compensation process work? Who pays the settlements? How much might they be? And how might the payouts affect King's financially?

Wayne John Hankey, a longtime professor at King's and neighbouring Dalhousie University in Halifax, was charged in 2021 with sexual assault, gross indecency and indecent assault for incidents involving three male complainants alleged to have occurred between 1977 and 1988.

Hankey died in 2022 before any of the cases went to trial.

King's hired Toronto law firm Rubin Thomlinson to investigate and produce a final report, which was released Wednesday and which details many other incidents not encompassed by the criminal complaints.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

The report recommended the university make amends — which could include financial compensation — and settle any legal actions. One civil lawsuit has been filed that names King's, Dalhousie, the Anglican Diocesan Synod of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and Hankey's estate. Hankey was also an Anglican priest.

King's president William Lahey said the university is interested in compensating victims where warranted.

"We must accept accountability by making amends to those who have been harmed, including by providing appropriate and just compensation," he said in a public address Wednesday.

How many victims?

At this point, no one knows how many victims and survivors may receive monetary compensation, as more people may come forward with knowledge of incidents. The university is urging anyone who has not yet spoken with the investigators to contact them by the end of the day April 14.

Liam O'Reilly, a lawyer with Wagners Law Firm who is handling the civil lawsuit against King's, said the list of incidents is likely to grow.

"When you have a case like this or a matter like this of historical sexual misconduct, usually the people that come forward are just the tip of the iceberg," he told the CBC's Information Morning Halifax on Thursday. "In our history of dealing with these matters, again, we expect more people to come forward."

Who will pay?

Depending on when the incidents occurred, and whether the university's insurance policy at the time covered the offence, payouts could be made by the insurance company or King's.

Rob Talach, a lawyer with Beckett Personal Injuries Lawyers in London, Ont., says since the 1980s, many insurance companies have restricted what they cover.

"So saying, look, we're not going to cover criminal activity and we're definitely not going to cover sexual assault," he said.

Lahey said it's possible the university's insurance policies may not cover some of the incidents.

Asked whether the financial stability of the university could be at risk due to payouts, Lahey said in an interview Thursday, "It could well be a challenge to us. Contrary to what some people think, we're not a wealthy institution.

"We're very aware that we operate with taxpayer money, with student money, with donor money. And so when I say 'just and appropriate,' to the university as well. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources that we have to work with."

How much compensation is typical?

Lahey has said the university cannot decide on its own how much money victims may receive. He said that's a conversation that will take place between the school, the complainants, their lawyers, insurance company lawyers and university lawyers, and that the school may ask for help from a mediator.

Talach, who has worked on sexual abuse and assault lawsuits including the Hockey Canada scandal involving members of the 2018 World Junior Hockey team, said damages for cases that go through the courts tend to be higher than amounts resulting from settlements through mediation.

Amounts depend on "how bad the abuse was, how long it went on, what was the relationship, you know, the power differential between the parties, the ages."

Talach said for the most egregious cases settled through courts, general damage amounts can be in the range of $250,000 to $300,000, while cases involving non-penetrative touching would likely be in the under-$100,000 range.

Doug Husby/CBC
Doug Husby/CBC

In settlements reached through third-party reconciliation, "the numbers can get pretty low," Talach said, as they often do not include damages for economic loss.

Economic losses can involve a survivor's difficulty continuing with education or holding down a job because of the assault, and Talach said in some court cases, juries have awarded over $1 million in the economic loss category alone.

"The real benefit for the institutions to run these third-party compensation schemes are, they're going to say, 'Hey, look, here's the scale for pain and suffering. We'll give you that. We're really not going to entertain economic loss. You know, take it or leave it.'"

Talach has a word of advice for anyone entering a third-party assessment: "If they want to go into it, they should have someone in their corner. And of course they don't have to go into it. They can still sue independently and go for the more comprehensive outcome."

Dalhousie and the Anglican Diocese

Dalhousie University, where Hankey also worked for decades, issued a statement to the school community on Wednesday evening offering an apology for Hankey's behaviour and saying it will, "to every extent possible, make amends to individuals affected who were part of our Dalhousie community."

Asked whether those amends could include financial compensation, university spokesperson Janet Bryson said in a statement that Dalhousie "can't predict the outcomes of making amends for those who may come forward to us, or how they may wish to proceed and what the outcome may be.

"For those who do come forward to the university, we remain committed to focusing on them as individuals, supporting their needs to the fullest extent possible and ensuring we fully capture the important lessons and learning from these traumatic events."

The Anglican Diocese did not respond to a request for an interview about whether it would settle the civil case in which it is named.

Lahey said the university has spent about $300,000 on Rubin Thomlinson's legal work, including fees for the university's lawyers, but that the bill is expected to rise further.