Class-action lawsuit approved for abuse case against two top Vancouver Catholic schools

Plaintiffs’ lawyer says more allegations have come forward since ruling

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The Supreme Court of B.C. has approved a class-action lawsuit against two Catholic colleges by former students who say they were abused by Christian Brothers who had been transferred there from a Newfoundland orphanage, where rampant sexual and physical abuse occurred.

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According to a ruling released by Justice Simon Coval, the class action has been allowed because it is the best way to handle multiple cases. Four former and current Christian Brothers (Edward English, Joseph Burke, Douglas Kenney and Gerard Gabriel McHugh) and three Catholic authorities are named in the action.

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Multiple students have reported abuse by Christian Brothers who were transferred to Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate between 1976 and 1983, after working at Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland from the early to mid 1970s.

“The claim alleges that senior Christian Brothers orchestrated the transfers, despite knowing what had occurred at Mount Cashel, and that the transferees and other Christian Brothers went on to abuse students at (Vancouver College and St. Thomas More in Burnaby),” Coval said.

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“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.”

Four of the six Christian Brothers who were transferred to Metro Vancouver from Mount Cashel were later convicted for crimes at the orphanage (including English).

English was a supervisor at Mount Cashel in the early 1970s and taught at Saint Thomas More from 1976 to 1981 and at Vancouver College from 1981 to 1987. In 1991 he was convicted of 13 counts of assault, gross indecency and assault causing bodily harm against orphan boys at Mount Cashel.

Of the three others named in the action; Burke was a Christian Brother who worked at the orphanage between 1974 and 1981 then was transferred to Saint Thomas More, where he resigned as a Christian Brother and moved to Vancouver College as a lay teacher. Burke was charged in the Mount Cashel case in the late 1980s, but those charges were set aside and he remained at Vancouver College until 2013 – when he left after admitting to professional misconduct for his discipline methods.

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Kenney was a supervisor at Mount Cashel from 1971 to 1976 and was transferred to Vancouver College to work as a teacher and dormitory supervisor from 1976 to 1979. He was later convicted of abuse at Mount Cashel, where Christian Brothers committed unspeakable acts of physical, sexual and emotional abuse on orphan boys between 1962 and the late 1980s.

McHugh – who is still a Christian Brother – was Provincial Superior for Canada from 1972 to 1978 and director of St. Thomas More and Vancouver College during those times. He is alleged to have known of an agreement between the Newfoundland government, police and the orphanage to transfer six Christian Brothers out of the province in exchange for a limited investigation into allegations made by orphans after being taken to hospital for physical injuries.

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The agreement was uncovered in the late 1980s – following a call to a radio show – and led to a Royal Commission and criminal charges against Christian Brothers working at Mount Cashel, that led to a string of convictions.

All four of the accused men in this case are alive.

The former students have made a string of accusations.

One Vancouver College student from 1980 to 1985 claims they were sexually abused by English over the course of two years, while another states that between 1976 and 1977 they were assaulted with a strap and piece of wood by Christian Brothers and also asked to pose for photos shirtless. Another Vancouver College student said they were sexually assaulted by Burke from 1985 to 1987. Similar allegations are made at St. Thomas More.

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Vancouver College first learned about the allegations of abuse in February 2021, when it stated it was taking them very seriously.

On March 8, 2023, the college said that it was aware that the class-action certification process had been approved.

The school said that it wanted the claims to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, as that would have allowed them to be “managed in a more individualized, efficient and timely manner.”

“Crimes of abuse are tragic and horrific and have lifelong impacts on victims. Vancouver College expresses profound concern and sympathy to anyone who has been impacted in any way by any abuse.”

St. Thomas More has not released a statement.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Joe Fioranti said that he has 65 alleged incidents of physical or sexual abuse at the two schools between 1976 and 2013, and that he expected the number to increase now that the class action had been approved.

“I’ve had a continuous stream of calls and emails from former students of both schools (since the ruling),” Fioranti said.

[email protected]


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