POLITICS

Nova Scotia judge accepts majority of affidavits in orphanage abuse lawsuit

06/12/2013 03:28 EDT | Updated 08/12/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge has ruled that the majority of information contained in affidavits from alleged abuse victims at a Halifax orphanage is admissible as the plaintiffs push forward with a proposed class-action lawsuit against the province.

The government had asked Judge Arthur LeBlanc to strike portions of selected affidavits from former residents at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children because it said they contained speculation, hearsay or information from unidentified sources.

But a lawyer for the former residents argued that the affidavits were fair and honest accounts of decades-old memories.

LeBlanc agreed Wednesday that both arguments have their merits, but he sided primarily with the plaintiffs in ruling that most of the information would be allowed.

In his decision, LeBlanc said evidence contained in the affidavits doesn't need to be proven as fact at the certification stage of the lawsuit. Rather, he explained, the affidavits must show there is reason enough to argue for approval as a class action.

"Some of the evidence that is relevant now may be irrelevant later," he said.

The province was successful, however, in its bid to have an entire affidavit from child welfare expert Sandra Scarth dismissed after LeBlanc ruled that it was immaterial at the certification stage.

The lawsuit alleges former residents at the home suffered years of sexual, physical and psychological abuse by staff at the home over a 50-year period up until the 1980s.

LeBlanc's ruling on the affidavits clears the way for arguments to begin Thursday on whether to certify the lawsuit as a class action. The proposed class is comprised of about 155 ex-residents of the home, but that number could grow.

Ray Wagner, a lawyer for the former residents, said LeBlanc's decision means the critical evidence is still in play. He described evidence that was dismissed as "minor."

"We are happy to see that the record that is still before the court is an important and very detailed record," he said outside court.

In particular, LeBlanc ruled that details of a conversation between a former resident and a staff member shouldn't be dismissed simply because the woman couldn't recall with whom she spoke.

In another case, he accepted one alleged victim's assertion that children were treated like "slaves" while living at the home. The province had argued that the comment, among others, should be tossed out because it was gratuitously scandalous or shocking.

Tracey Dorrington-Skinner, a plaintiff who spent about 12 years at the home as a young girl, said she was pleased with the judge's ruling and looking forward to the certification stage of the hearing.

"It's just that it's been so long in coming," she said. "Some of our former residents have since passed away. The older residents feel they won't be around to hear the end of this."

Wagner has said if the lawsuit is approved as a class action, it could be 2015 before the matter goes to court.