Skip to main content

A suit alleging decade-long sexual abuse of teenage boys by officers of HMCS Discovery came to a close yesterday after a British Columbia court approved a $10-million settlement between the victims and the federal government.

A British Columbia Supreme Court ruling awards a compensation package worth $8-million to 35 former sea cadets who were part of a successful class-action suit against the officers and the attorney-general of Canada.

Another $1.8-million has been set aside for cadets who were not party to the class-action suit, but who were also abused and believe they may be entitled to compensation. They have 45 days to make a claim.

"This is fantastic,'' said William White, 52, a former sea cadet, who lead the class action. "I can't speak for everybody, but I feel like just the truth being known is a good thing.

"A lot of the guys aren't doing well and they need the money to eat and live,'' he said, adding that some became drug addicts, while others committed suicide.

Mr. White, who works as a fence repairman, said he had his days of "destroying myself,'' but survived by focusing on his work.

The settlement was reached more than two years after the attorney-general was named as a defendant in a suit that sought compensation for teenagers alleged to be victims of sex-abuse crimes in the HMCS Discovery sea cadet program.

Comparable in size and scope to the infamous Mount Cashel case in Newfoundland, it alleged that as many as 63 boys may have been abused by reserve officers who preyed on cadets from Vancouver-based HMCS Discovery between 1967 and 1977.

Five former officers of HMCS Discovery, which was stationed in Vancouver's Stanley Park, were named as third parties in the case. Two of them, Ralph Bremner and Conrad Sundman, were found guilty of sexual abuse and other sex crimes.

In 2001, Mr. Sundman was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to 13 counts of indecent assault and three counts of buggery. Mr. Bremner was convicted of four counts of indecent assault on boys aged between 13 and 15.

In the complaint, Mr. White alleged that the federal government may have been liable for what is said to have occurred on HMCS Discovery. The allegation was based on the fact that the sea cadets program was set up under the National Defence Act.

Mr. White alleged that the attorney-general failed to take reasonable measures in the operation or management of the program to protect the cadets from conduct of a sexual nature by employees, agents and other cadets at HMCS Discovery.

Under yesterday's settlement, each of the 35 victims in the class-action suit is eligible for an average payout of $227,867.

However, what they actually receive will depend on the outcome of psychological tests to determine the severity of abuse. "Some will get more and some will get less," said Robert Gibbens, the lawyer retained by the former cadets. The maximum payout has been set as high as $500,000.

But some victims could receive as little as $30,000 if they elect to take the money without undergoing a psychological test.

"The settlement avoids protracted and numerous proceedings with no clear prospect of success," Mr. Justice Austin Cullen of the B.C. Supreme Court wrote in his decision.

Under the settlement, Judge Cullen said anonymity is afforded the members [of the class action]and they are no longer obliged to give evidence in court or be cross-examined on the issue of liability or on the issue of damages.