National Catholic Reporter
September 16, 1994
FORMER STUDENTS SUE ORDER FOR $40 MILLION
The lawsuit names 40 brothers and 24 civilians who allegedly
abused the former students between 1944 and 1 979.
By ART BABYCH Special to NCR
OTTAWA Ñ Former students who allege they were abused at a reform school operated by a Toronto-based order of Catholic brothers are seeking a total of almost $40 million in damages. The group of 28 former students filed a 115-page lawsuit Sept. 2 in an Ottawa court. They claim they were physically and sexually abused at St. John's Training School for Boys, operated by the Brothers of the Christian Schools of Toronto.
Each of the men is seeking damages of about $1.4 million, claiming the brothers and the school were negligent in allowing the abuse.
The lawsuit names 40 brothers and 24 civilians who allegedly abused the former students between 1944 and 1979.
The alleged incidents included 'sodomy, physical abuse on a daily basis, emotional abuse, the whole ball of wax,' said former student Michael Watters at a Sept. 6 news conference in Toronto.
Another former student, Thomas Bell, said the lawsuit was a fight for justice. 'We have to let people understand that the long-term effects of childhood sexual and physical violence is not something that you get over in a day or two.'
In 1992, former students of the school threatened to take action against the brothers after the order refused to take part in a multimillion dollar compensation package that also involved St. Joseph's Training School for Boys, near Ottawa.
Douglas Roche, founding editor of the 'Western Catholic Reporter', served as mediator and chairperson over the two year negotiating period that resulted in the package.
About 700 alleged victims of abuse at the two schools ratified the agreement through their organization, called Helpline.
It was also ratified by the Ottawa and Toronto archdioceses, the Ontario government and the Christian Brothers of Ottawa .
The Brothers of the Christian Schools of Toronto, not affiliated with the Ottawa order, refused to sign the package. They would have had to contribute $3 million to the $23 million package. The lawyer for the Toronto order called the demand for money 'blackmail.'
David McCann, then the president of Helpline, warned the Toronto order at the time that if the order did not participate, the association 'may launch a $300 million class-action lawsuit.'
In an interview Sept. 7, Mel O'Donohue, lawyer for the Toronto order, said any of the former students who is entitled to compensation will get it. He added, though, that they will be required to prove the charges.
O'Donohue said the order 'has always been willing to sit down with former students to do what is fair in the circumstances.' But it has not been willing to negotiate with McCann, who is believed to have moved to the United States. 'We have asked police to arrest him," said O'Donohue. The charges against McCann would include perjury and the falsification of documents, he said.
O'Donohue said the Christian Brothers have not yet been served with a statement of claim by the former students. After the statement has been served, the order has 20 days to file a statement of defense.
A massive Ontario Provincial Police investigation in 1991 resulted in more than 200 charges being laid against about 30 brothers and staff who worked at the schools. Most were later convicted in separate trials.
More claims for compensation are expected to be filed against members of the Toronto order on behalf of about 200 other former students.