The Supreme Court of British Columbia has certified a class-action lawsuit launched by former students of two Vancouver Catholic schools. They say they suffered physical and sexual abuse from teachers who were known by school administrators to be predators at the time of their hiring between 1976 and 1983.
The lawsuit names as defendants three former teachers, one administrator and Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate. It also names the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, and the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese.
Vancouver College and St. Thomas More were historically owned and operated by the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada (CBIC), a since-disbanded chapter of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, an organization dedicated to providing religious education to youth.
The CBIC operated the Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland and Labrador. Several Christian Brothers connected to the orphanage were convicted of sex crimes in the 1990s. Some former residents testified they were beaten so badly that they couldn’t sit, or were frequently molested.
The lawsuit alleges that the named defendants were transferred from Mount Cashel to the two Vancouver schools.
“This [certification] is a major step forward in the journey to seek answers and justice for all the students who suffered abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers at these schools,” said representative plaintiff Darren Liptrot in a news release. “There is strength in numbers, and collectively, we can force the schools and the Vancouver Archdiocese to disclose what they knew and why they failed to protect us.”
Reidar Mogerman, one of the lawyers representing Mr. Liptrot, said approximately 65 former students have contacted his firm about the lawsuit.
In his decision, Justice Simon Coval said the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit have evidence that’s similar enough to justify certifying the case as a class action.
“A class proceeding is preferable to individual actions. It will enhance access to justice for the class members and provide the fairest and most efficient method of managing their claims,” Justice Coval wrote.
An earlier lawsuit filed by a Vancouver-area man against a Christian Brother in 2007 was settled out of court.
In the class-action lawsuit certified this week, one of the Brothers listed as a defendant, Joseph Burke, worked at Vancouver College until 2013, when he retired in the midst of an investigation by the school into his methods of discipline.
Edward English, Douglas Kenny and Gerard Gabriel McHugh are the other Christian Brothers named in the lawsuit.
Through the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, victims from Mount Cashel sought compensation from the brotherhood, which was already in the process of being liquidated. The CBIC claimed it didn’t have the money to pay the victims, and argued that their highly valued Vancouver properties weren’t theirs to sell to pay compensation because the properties belonged to a trust.
In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the CBIC did in fact own the schools, and liquidators listed the schools for sale. Ultimately, the schools themselves reached a settlement with the survivors and raised some $19-million to compensate them.
“This case is an existential crisis for the schools because the value of the claims – and we allege that they’re very real claims – is possibly large enough to consume the schools,” said Mr. Mogerman. “And the schools need to face that reality.”
He urged others students who were abused to come forward.
“If you’re a class member, you have lawyers, and you should talk to us. If you are a member of the school community and you have information, you can come forward and share that with us on a confidential basis. This is a very real problem. And we want to have a fact and truth driven approach.”
The property and buildings that constitute Vancouver College were valued by BC Assessment at $114,156,000 in 2022, while St. Thomas More was assessed as being worth $32,931,500.