A group of men who allege they were sexually abused while in prison as teenagers will not be allowed to pursue a class action lawsuit, an Alberta judge has ruled.
The 14 men say they were assaulted by Anglican priest Reverend Gordon William Dominey when they were teenagers held at the Edmonton Youth Development Center in the 1980s.
Dominey was due to stand trial in January 2020 on 33 counts related to alleged historical sex offenses against 13 former inmates, but died on November 7, 2019, aged 67.
At a hearing in January, the men argued they should be certified as a group and be allowed to sue the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Edmonton and the province for failing to protect the youths of Dominey.
They argued that gaining permission to sue as a group through a class action would facilitate access to justice for many men who are poor and face challenges that make it difficult to obtain a lawyer and to sue themselves.
The diocese and province deny being responsible to the men in any way and opposed the request for certification.
Dominey was also named as a defendant, but his estate was noted as in default.
None of the allegations in the criminal or civil case have been proven in court.
In a decision filed Monday, Court of Queen’s Bench Judge John Henderson dismissed the class action claim, saying it would be best for each man to file a lawsuit for damages on his own and that this way would be faster.
“Proceeding by way of individual actions will allow attorneys to focus on liability issues that immediately affect the individual plaintiff,” Henderson wrote in the ruling. “Individual actions can proceed much more quickly and would not be as cumbersome as a class action.”
hard to accept
It’s a blow to the 50-year-old who launched the class action attempt in 2017 – he fears it means some of the men will never have their day in court again now. His identity is protected by a publication ban.
“It’s hard to accept,” said the man who works in British Columbia. “There was so much work, time and effort that went into it.”
He said that for him, action is not about money. He said he wanted to see the church and the province take responsibility and apologize so he and the other men could get the closure.
“These people were placed in a position of trust that they betrayed,” he said.
A spokesperson for Alberta’s Justice Department declined to comment on Tuesday, citing the possibility of an appeal. The Archbishop of the Diocese of Edmonton did not respond to an interview request.
Avnish Nanda, the men’s lawyer, said the news of the rejection of the application was a disappointment for his clients who are middle-aged men living in difficult circumstances.
“For many of them, this could be the end of the road because they are simply not in a position to bring their own lawsuit. They simply do not have the means, the resources or the mental fortitude to relive the trauma associated with their sexual abuse,” he said.
“Illusion of access to justice”
In his decision, Henderson agreed that some men would face obstacles in suing themselves and that there are common factors in all cases that should be litigated in court. These include things like details about Dominey’s employment and could be dealt with in what is called a common issues lawsuit.
However, Henderson said that because each of the men would have to testify about the specific abuse they say they suffered, a class action lawsuit would end up looking like a series of individual lawsuits anyway.
“I conclude that certification will only create an illusion of access to justice, as those benefits will be limited to the common issues trial,” Henderson said.
Nanda said he doesn’t know if his clients will appeal or begin to launch individual stocks.
One of the proposed class members had already retained his own attorney and said on Tuesday he was ready to figure out how to move forward on his own.
The 51-year-old, who now lives on Vancouver Island, said he was robbed of a chance to see Dominey face the allegations at trial, but he remains determined to hold something responsible for what he says he has experienced.
“I want my day in court, that’s how it’s going to end,” he said.