THUNDER BAY — A multi-million dollar class action lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of two organizations resulting in hundreds of Indigenous youth being sexually abused by a priest and youth leader continues to move through the court, with a potential settlement hearing taking place later this year.
A case conference was held in Thunder Bay for the $110 million class action lawsuit filed against Ralph Rowe, Scouts Canada, and the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin.
A settlement approval hearing in the class action is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 27.
The class action was first filed in 2017 and is seeking compensation for individuals alleged to have been sexually abused by Rowe in the geographic boundaries of the Anglican Diocese of Keewatin in Northern Ontario between 1975 and 1987.
At the time, Rowe was a priest in the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin and a leader with Scouts Canada and would fly into remote communities to ostensibly provide spiritual services, guidance, and leadership to First Nation youth.
“Over this period, by virtue of the power and authority vested in him as a priest of the Synod and as a Scout leader, Rowe engaged in sexual grooming behaviour with young boys under his care and control,” the amended statement of claim reads. “This grooming activity, culminating in heinous sexual acts, was perpetrated on hundreds of predominantly aboriginal youth in northern Ontario and Manitoba First Nation communities.”
The statement of claim goes on to allege that the Synod and Scouts Canada engaged in “systemic negligence and breach of fiduciary duty,” which allowed “Rowe’s sexual predation to continue for decades.”
“By providing Rowe with the opportunity to abuse his power over these children in acts directly related to the psychological intimacy inherent in his role as priest and Scout leader, the Synod and Scouts Canada are also vicariously liable for the conduct of Rowe,” the statement of claim goes on to read.
Since 1988, Rowe has been convicted of nearly 60 crime relating to sexual assault and abuse involving dozens of victims, including guilty pleas to 26 sex-related charges and 39 counts of indecent assault in 1994, and additional counts in 2007 and 2009.
Rowe served less than five years in custody on the charges.
Scouts Canada and the Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin have denied allegations of negligence in relation to Rowe’s actions.
“Scouts Canada pleads that Rowe’s fitness to volunteer as a Scout leader was properly assessed prior to his acceptance into the organization, and that he was properly trained to serve as a volunteer leader,” a statement of defense filed in March 2019 by Scouts Canada reads.
“Scouts Canada specifically denies that there was anything learned, or that should have been learned prior to 1988, by Scouts Canada to suggest any potential that Rowe would commit these types of acts that he is alleged to have committed by the plaintiff and the class members.”
The statement of defense filed by the Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin states that the Synod does not admit, “Rowe committed any acts of sexual grooming, sexual abuse, or sexual assault on either the representative plaintiff or the class members,” and that if he did the Synod denies he did so at any time while conducting his duties as a priest.
“At all material times no allegations of sexual misconduct by Rowe were made known to the SDK,” the statemen of defense reads. “As a result, without having actual or constructive knowledge of Rowe’s misconduct, the SDK was not in a position to reasonably intervene to prevent Rowe’s conduct or to institute disciplinary proceedings against Rowe.”
Further case conferences are expected to be held throughout the summer prior to the tentative settlement approval hearing in October.