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Potential class-action lawsuit in B.C. alleges abuse at Catholic schools

Boys alleging they were sexually and physically abused by priests already known to be child abusers want to know why those men wound up teaching again.
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A B.C. judge is hearing an application for a class-action suit alleging abuse at Catholic schools in British Columbia.

More than 30 years ago, Canadians were horrified to hear tales of physical and sexual abuse of boys by Christian Brothers operating Newfoundland’s Mount Cashel Orphanage.

A hearing to gain class-action certification began in B.C. Supreme Court Monday (Aug. 8), alleging the church moved some of those men to B.C. by where sexual abuse allegations continue to surface.

The proposed class-action suit, filed in March, says between 1976 and 1983, an order called the Christian Brothers transferred six abusive members from Mount Cashel Orphanage to Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate in Burnaby.

The suit was initially filed in February 2021 with representative plaintiff Darren Liptrot. He said in the claim he attended Vancouver College from 1980 to 1985, for grades 8 to 12, and that Brother Edward English sexually abused him.

Named as defendants in the notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court Jan. 31 are Vancouver College Ltd. (VCL), St. Thomas More Collegiate, Edward English, Joseph Burke, Douglas Kenny, Gerard Gabriel McHugh, The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver and the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA).

In a Jan. 31 response to Liptrot's amended notice of civil claim, the defendants denied the Christian Brothers moved six members from Mount Cashel to Vancouver College and St. Thomas More where they had unfettered access to children, abused children and/or failed to protect children from their fellow Christian Brothers. 

Reidar Mogerman, a lawyer for Liptrot, who was in court Monday, told Justice Simon Coval in the application for class-action certification that such a trial method creates greater access to justice for victims of systemic abuse through the identification of common issues.

He said pursuing such cases individually creates economic burdens.

"People who have suffered abuses like this are hesitant to come forward," Mogerman said.

The lawsuit says English confessed to abusing children at Mount Cashel Orphanage before he was transferred.

The defendants denied Joseph Burke was moved to St. Thomas More and was employed as a teacher at Vancouver College. 

They further denied VCL was responsible for setting policies and procedures for the operation of Vancouver College and that VCL employed Christian Brothers and former Christian Brothers as teachers and was responsible for vetting, screening, appointing, training, managing and disciplining them.

The defendants denied Kenny was a teacher and dormitory supervisor at Vancouver College from 1977 to 1979 and that he taught purported class members and supervised them overnight as a dormitory supervisor. 

They further denied the archbishop of Vancouver oversaw and operated the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese, Vancouver College and St. Thomas More, including the transfer of the Christian Brothers into the Vancouver Archdiocese and the hiring and firing of Christian Brothers and former Brothers at the schools.

Also denied are allegations CISVA oversaw, managed and conducted the operations of Catholic schools in Vancouver, including Vancouver College and St. Thomas More, that it had authority over and set policies for the hiring, supervision and termination of staff at Vancouver College and St. Thomas More. 

The response said issues around Mount Cashel and movements of Brothers after that were outside VCL's knowledge.

Mount Cashell Christian Brothers

In all, six of the Mount Cashell Christian Brothers were eventually convicted of sexually or physically abusing orphans at that facility.

Burke was one of those six.

The hearing documents contain a May 17, 2022 affidavit from John B. Doe, who alleges that Burke was his teacher at Vancouver College, a K-12 private school run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers.

His affidavit said he attended the school between 2007 and 2011 and was sexually abused in grades 8 and 9. 

“I have been struggling with the effects of this abuse all of my adult life,” John B. Doe said in the document. “I want to understand how Joe Burke was allowed to return to a teaching position at Vancouver College after being convicted of a criminal offence for his actions at Mount Cashel.”

A May 12 affidavit from John A. Doe said he attended St. Thomas More between 1978 and 1982 and was molested by English. He said he reported the abuse to RCMP some years later but no action was taken.

“I want to know how it is that he was allowed to teach at St. Thomas More after having admitted to sexually abusing boys at Mount Cashel,” John A. Doe said.

In a Jan. 27 affidavit, Richard Pedersen said he saw Burke and English physically abuse students, at times hitting him or another with closed fists hard enough to knock them from their seats.

He claims he saw Burke beat a student over the buttocks until the stick he was using broke.

“My three years at St. Thomas More were a fear-filled experience,” Pedersen said. “I was focused on self-preservation and keeping off the radar of the Christian Brothers.”

Mother Betty Pedersen’s Jan. 7 affidavit recounts her confronting Burke.

“I warned him never to touch my son again. I told him that I expected more of him as a Christian, especially wearing the uniform of the Christian Brothers, which was a black shirt with a white collar insert, similar to a priest's attire. Burke yanked the white collar insert out of his shirt, threw it on [the] ground, and said, ‘That's all that means to me,’” she said.

Christopher Dziekan attended Vancouver College from 1976 to 1984.

“I was sexually abused by Brother English. I was also photographed by Brother Raymond and subjected to acts of what I can only describe as voyeurism by lay teacher Mr. Clavin and other Christian Brothers whose names I don't recall at this time,” Dziekan said in the affidavit.

He said it was not uncommon to see students physically abused. He recounted one boy screaming in pain as a Brother Duff strapped him.

Dziekan said Clavin and some Brothers would line them up naked before gym class showers.

“There was no reason for the Brothers to be there. They were not PE teachers. As a result of this, I was scared to go to PE class,” he said.

“It seemed that teachers followed a practice of belittling, threatening, emotionally manipulating, and physically hurting us,” Dziekan said. “This behaviour was allowed and seen as normal.”

Dziekan said Brother Raymond asked him to pose shirtless for photos, and he described what appeared to be the start of a sexual encounter beginning with stretch and massage instruction.

Dziekan said coming forward now has resulted in flashbacks and nightmares and has caused a rift between him and his devout parents.

Meanwhile, Hamish McArthur attended Vancouver College between 1985 and 1987, his May 11 affidavit said.

He said he was beaten by Burke on multiple occasions. He described the atmosphere of fear as normal at the school.

“My relationship with my mother suffered greatly as a result of the abuse I endured as I blamed her for the treatment I received,” McArthur said. “I felt betrayed and unprotected and lost trust In her. I was a 12-year-old child that was repeatedly beaten by a man who told me he had my mother's permission to do so.”

He added: “I find it abhorrent that Vancouver College denies responsibility for abuse that took place at the school. I find it incongruent to the Catholic doctrine of forgiveness and mercy.”

Church files

An affidavit from Vancouver College director of finance and facilities management (and employed by Vancouver College Limited) Kelly Lattimer filed in court Jan. 31 said Liptrot’s school records show no reports of abuse.

Lattimer’s affidavit also notes Burke was employed as a lay teacher at Vancouver College between 1982 and 1989 and 1996 to 2013. He was on medical leave December 2011 to April 2012. On Feb. 1 2013, he was suspended with pay and terminated 12 days later.

Lattimer’s document said there were no complaints of a sexual nature against Burke.

A March case backgrounder from the lawyer handling the plaintiff's case, Joe Fiorante of firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman, said Burke was arrested in April 1989 and indicted on eight counts of abuse committed at Mount Cashel between 1974 and 1979.  

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador convicted him in 1991 on three charges of indecent assault (for sexual abuse) and one charge of assault causing bodily harm (for strapping a child on the bare buttocks with a belt and causing bruising), the backgrounder said.

Fiorante said Burke admitted at trial to hitting the child for punishment purposes, and he apologized but denied the sexual abuse allegations. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the assault causing bodily harm charge but overturned the indecent assault convictions.

Fiorante said the high court found in dismissing those counts that the trial judge unreasonably relied on evidence, including testimony by the complainants, that was uncorroborated or not credible.

In the current case, are now multiple affidavits attached to the suit in support of class certification the church is opposing.

If a B.C. Supreme Court judge certifies the action, Liptrot would represent students of Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate who were allegedly physically or sexually abused between 1976 and 1995.

The lawsuit says that RCMP began investigating allegations of sexual abuse at Mount Cashel in 1975 and English confessed to police that he had sexually abused boys at the orphanage.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The Archdiocese of Vancouver has been investigating reports of abuse and has named priests of concern.