Wrongly accused of sexually abusing his daughter, P.E.I. man sues RCMP and group home

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CHARLOTTETOWN — A P.E.I. man wrongly accused of sexually abusing his severely autistic daughter is suing the RCMP and a Charlottetown group home, claiming he and his family were victims of negligence and a malicious prosecution.

In a statement of claim filed with the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, the family is accusing employees at the home of inventing abuse allegations in January 2015 and attributing them to the daughter, who is virtually non-verbal and has the intellect of a two-year-old.

"The false allegations and resultant proceedings against or involving (the parents) were devastating and caused irreparable harm," the document says.

The claim, filed late last week, says employees of Queens County Residential Services in Charlottetown told the RCMP that the 35-year-old woman used a technique known as facilitated communication to allege her father had been an incestuous pedophile since she was 13. Facilitated communication involves a facilitator using physical support to help a non-verbal person point to pictures, objects, words or a keyboard to communicate.

First developed in the 1970s, facilitated communication has been widely discredited by experts in the field since the 1990s.

"In the 1990s and 2000s, false accusations of sexual abuse by parents against their children with severe autism disorder were repeatedly generated through the use of (facilitated communication)," the claim says. "Many of these cases were, and continue to be, widely reported."

Despite the high-profile debunking of facilitated communication, the woman's father was arrested on Feb. 7, 2015. Though he was never charged, he was prohibited from having any contact with his daughter for six months.

The Canadian Press is not naming the family because of the nature of the original allegations and the vulnerable state of the woman.

Independent psychological testing arranged by the family — despite resistance from the province and group home — found the woman was incapable of making the allegations attributed to her. The clinical psychologist who conducted the testing said questions put to the woman were actually being answered by group home workers.

Eventually, the Mounties' investigation collapsed, and a Crown attorney filed a stay of proceedings.

None of the allegations in the family's statement of claim has been proven in court, and statements of defence have yet to be filed. Requests for comment from the RCMP and Queens County Residential Services were not immediately returned.

In 2016, RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Leanne Butler said of the case: "We did everything we could as an investigative body .... It's to the betterment of the investigation when we take our time."

The family's claim, which also names two of the home's employees, alleges they breached their duty of care to the woman, contributing to an "unjustifiable separation" and a miscarriage of justice.

The staff "recklessly, carelessly or intentionally with malice" misrepresented statements attributed to to the woman, while they knew or ought to have known those statements to be false, the claim says.

In an earlier affidavit filed in court, one of the employees defended the communication technique, saying it was the autistic woman guiding her, "not the other way around."

As for the RCMP, the statement of claim alleges the Mounties breached of their duty of care to both the father and his daughter by failing to fully investigate the allegations against him and failing to research the validity of facilitated communication.

"Despite access to widely available records confirming numerous examples of false accusations made by 'facilitators' through the use of (facilitated communication) nationally and internationally, the RCMP acted with malice carelessness and/or reckless indifference by failing to search for or obtain same before arresting (the father) and accusing him of sexually assaulting his daughter," the claim says.

As well, the claim alleges the RCMP failed to use interview techniques to determine the authenticity of the original allegations, and they failed to investigate the woman's capacity to give the statements.

"The RCMP (and ultimately the attorney general of Canada) is vicariously and independently liable for the negligent investigation performed by its officers," the claim says.

The plaintiffs are seeking general damages and aggravated damages valued at $500,000 and punitive damages of $500,000. As well, they are seeking damages totalling $500,000 for the infringement of their charter rights.

In March 2016, a P.E.I. Supreme Court judge admonished the office of the province's health minister, saying it had treated the family in a "deplorable" manner. At one point, the province's health minister had issued an order preventing the entire family from having any unsupervised contact with the woman.

The judge's decision described the daughter as "a vulnerable child in an adult body."

In March 2020, the family reached an out-of-court settlement with the provincial government, which had conducted its own investigation into the matter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2021.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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