Alleged victims of sexual abuse seek to certify class action lawsuit against Alberta and church

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A group of men who allege they were sexually assaulted by a chaplain while in an Edmonton youth prison are seeking court permission to sue the province and the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Edmonton in the part of a class action.

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.

The civil action currently before the courts was launched by one of the plaintiffs in the criminal case. He has been seeking to have the case proceed as a class action since he first filed it in 2017.

His identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

None of the allegations in the criminal or civil case have been proven in court.

On Monday, Court of Queen’s Bench Judge John Henderson heard arguments from plaintiff’s attorney Avnish Nanda on why men should be able to sue as a group, rather than attempting to seek a compensation in 14 individual lawsuits.

During the hearing held via videoconference, Nanda argued that the diocese and province placed Dominey in a position of authority over the youth and then failed to adequately supervise the priest or enforce policies and practices to protect young people.

“Institutional members created or enabled an environment that allowed Dominey to abuse them with impunity,” he said.

The Government of Alberta and the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton oppose the granting of certification.

The parties argued that the varied nature of the alleged assaults would make it difficult for a judge to assess overall responsibility and that each member of the group would have to testify no matter what.

“Nobody wants to replicate this and do it 14 times, but at the end of the day, a class action lawsuit is not the right structure,” said Luciana Brasil, the province’s attorney.

She challenged the argument that there was systemic negligence or abuse on the part of the province.

“In this case, the allegation is only, only that Mr. Dominey assaulted the youngster at the center in Edmonton,” Brasil said. “There is no allegation that staff or any other student did anything to anyone else.”

The Alberta attorneys also argued that the case failed to meet the criteria for certification in two ways, arguing:

  • Alberta has no fiduciary duty or commitment to act in the best interests of inmates, even if they are children.
  • The Occupiers Liability Act does not apply because two of the men alleged that Dominey took them on outings and also assaulted them in his car and at home.

The court also heard arguments from Nanda and the defendants on whether the hearsay evidence from the preliminary hearing should be admitted.

Dominey’s estate is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, although the court heard it contained no assets.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday.

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