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Granting class action on alleged abuse at two B.C. schools enhances access to justice: judge

Friday, March 17, 2023 @ 12:30 PM | By Ian Burns

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A B.C. judge has authorized a class action on alleged physical and sexual abuse suffered by students at two Vancouver-area Catholic schools, a case with significant ties to the notorious Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland.

The representative plaintiff in the case, Darren Liptrot, was a student at Vancouver College in the early 1980s, where he allegedly suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a school supervisor who was a member of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada. The man was later convicted of 13 counts of assault, gross indecency and assault causing bodily harm perpetrated on boys at Mount Cashel, which became infamous for years of abuse and led to a royal commission discovering that an investigation had been stymied by provincial officials.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, before the events at Mount Cashel came to light, six Christian Brothers were transferred from the orphanage to Vancouver College and another school, St. Thomas More Collegiate in Burnaby. Liptrot was seeking to certify the class for damages on behalf of students at the two schools between 1976 and 2013 who claim they were physically or sexually abused by members of the Christian Brothers. His counsel noted that, following the decision in Rumley v. British Columbia, 2001 SCC 69, courts have repeatedly held class actions to be the appropriate forum for cases of alleged sexual abuse of vulnerable groups such as young students.

And that was a proposition that B.C. Supreme Court Justice Simon Coval agreed with.

“The plaintiff’s evidence establishes common factual and legal issues regarding the institutional defendants’ alleged knowledge of what occurred at Mount Cashel, and their decisions, actions, and policies regarding the Christian Brothers at the Schools,” he wrote in Liptrot v. Vancouver College Limited, 2023 BCSC 346, which was issued March 8. “In these circumstances, 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 granted the application with slightly narrower parameters against St. Thomas More than what was sought by Liptrot. He defined the class as all students enrolled at Victoria College between 1976 and 2013 who claim they were abused, and those who were at St. Thomas More from 1976 to 1989 as there was no evidence of the transferees being there after the latter date.

“The Transferees coming to the Schools, in circumstances where the defendants allegedly knew, or ought to have known, they had abused children at Mount Cashel, is some basis in fact capable of supporting an award of punitive damages,” he wrote.

Joe Fiorante, Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP

Joe Fiorante, Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP

Joe Fiorante of Vancouver’s Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP, who represented Liptrot, said the decision was a “very important step forward in our client’s journey to get accountability and justice for what happened to him as a high school student.”

“It definitely has been a long and painful journey, but he has found the expression of support from his fellow students to be incredibly powerful,” he said. “The number of students who have gotten in touch about the case and have provided their own accounts of having suffered abuse and their willingness to participate in the case has been in some ways comforting for [Liptrot] to know he is not alone in this fight.”

Fiorante said the situation is “yet another ugly chapter” in the Mount Cashel story, but one that hadn’t been fully addressed by the legal system.

“And this is Mr. Liptrot’s mission to shine a light on it and use the civil justice system to get answers and accountability — it is shocking,” he said.

The exact size of the class has not yet been worked out, said Fiorante.

“The moment we filed the case and he went public we started to receive inquiries from former students, and by the time we were at the certification application we advised the court that we had received about 65 reports of abuse that fit within the class time period,” he said. “And that has since grown as a result of the certification ruling — we have been fielding calls and emails literally every day since the ruling.”

In a statement, Vancouver College said it had “received news” that the certification request has been granted.

“While we had hoped that any claims against Vancouver College would be managed in a more individualized, efficient and timely manner, we remain committed to addressing these claims in the manner that best serves those affected,” the statement said. “At this time, we are reviewing the reasons for judgment and will have further updates for you as soon as they are available.”

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