VANCOUVER — A Catholic order shuffled known abusers from a notorious Newfoundland orphanage to two schools in the Vancouver area where more boys were victimized, a lawsuit alleges.
A proposed class-action suit filed Monday in British Columbia Supreme Court 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.
The lawsuit says one of the six men, Brother Edward English, confessed to abusing children at Mount Cashel before he was transferred, and all six were later convicted of sexually or physically abusing orphans at the Newfoundland facility.
“Following incidents of abuse, the (Christian Brothers) did not act to protect the children in their care, but to protect their abusers from criminal charges by moving them out of Newfoundland to teach at schools owned and operated by the (Christian Brothers),” the lawsuit says.
None of the allegations has been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed.
The lawsuit names a number of defendants including the former owner of Mount Cashel, the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s, which said in a statement Monday that it had just learned of the civil claim.
“As with all matters before us, we will take it seriously and seek to deal with it in an appropriate manner,” said Archbishop Peter Hundt. “It would be premature for us to make any further public statement on this matter at the present time.”
Vancouver College is also a defendant and said it learned Monday of “deeply troubling allegations of abuse” in the 1980s. It takes the claims very seriously, is reviewing the class-action filing and will respond accordingly once it has a better understanding, it said.
“Crimes of abuse are tragic and horrific, and have lifelong impacts to those involved,” the school said in a statement. “Vancouver College expresses profound concern and sympathy to anyone who has been impacted in any way by any abuse.”
St. Thomas More Collegiate, another defendant in the case, said it expresses profound concern and sympathy to anyone affected by the alleged abuse. The school strives to create an environment built on trust and respect, it said.
“Abuse of any kind has no place here, nor in any learning environment,” it said in a statement.
The Archdiocese of Vancouver said it did not know why it is named in the suit.
“Vancouver College and St. Thomas More are not owned or operated by the Archdiocese of Vancouver or Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver Archdiocese,” archdiocese spokeswoman Melissa Godbout said.
“These two schools are both run by independent foundations. They own their own land and buildings, have their own curriculum, and make all their own hiring decisions.”
Also named as a defendant is English, who was convicted in 1991 of multiple counts of sexual and physical abuse at Mount Cashel and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Gerald Gabriel McHugh, who was a high-ranking member of the Christian Brothers at the time, and John Kavalec, who was vice-principal of Vancouver College, are also named.
The Canadian Press could not reach English, McHugh or Kavalec for comment. The lawsuit states that the whereabouts of English and McHugh are not known to the plaintiff.
The Christian Brothers declared bankruptcy in 2011 and are not named as a defendant.
Plaintiff Darren Liptrot says in the notice of civil claim he attended Vancouver College from 1980 to 1985, for grades 8 to 12, and he was sexually abused by English.
The Canadian Press does not typically name people who say they were sexually abused, but Liptrot has asked to be named.
If a judge certifies the class action, Liptrot would represent students of Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate who were 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.
McHugh learned from English that the allegations were true, the lawsuit says, but McHugh met with the RCMP and deputy justice minister at the time and agreed to remove several men from the province on the understanding that no charges would be filed.
McHugh was involved in sending English in 1976 to St. Thomas More, where he taught until 1981, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges school officials received complaints about English allegedly assaulting students, but rather than report him to the police or expel him from the Christian Brothers, McHugh moved him once again — this time to Vancouver College.
English sexually and physically abused Liptrot at the school between 1981 to 1983, when he was in Grade 9 and 10, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit says Liptrot reported the abuse to Kavalec, the vice-principal of Vancouver College, who allegedly “ignored his complaints and took no action.”
English has not faced criminal charges in B.C. Another man filed a lawsuit against him in 2007 alleging abuse at St. Thomas More and another Vancouver-area school, but the suit was settled out of court in 2011 on terms not made public.
The lawsuit filed Monday says in addition to English, McHugh was involved in sending five other Christian Brothers from Mount Cashel to Vancouver College or St. Thomas More after allegations of abuse were made against them.
The men, who were later convicted of physical or sexual abuse of children at Mount Cashel, were Kevin Short, Douglas Kenny, Edward French, David Burton and Joseph Burke.
The lawsuit says the class members have suffered significant damage including pain and suffering, psychological injuries, addiction issues, inability to have normal and healthy sexual development and spiritual trauma including loss of faith.
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs want a declaration that English abused them and the defendants are liable for that abuse, an award for damages for negligence, past and future costs of health care and punitive and aggravated damages.
“The conduct of the defendants … is egregious and so extreme in nature as to be deserving of condemnation and punishment,” the lawsuit says. “Compensatory damages alone are inadequate.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.
Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version included a quote from a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Vancouver in which she misstated the name of the Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver Archdiocese.