MONTREAL - A multi-million dollar settlement reached last month with a major Roman Catholic organization in payment for decades of sexual abuse is in limbo after demands for more money by the provincial government.
The demand comes from a justice department assistance fund for class-action lawsuits which aided in the case.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Claude Auclair took the matter under advisement but said he would reach a decision quickly.
Up to $18 million was to be paid by the Congregation of Holy Cross and divided among the 215 victims.
Holy Cross had also agreed to issue an apology for abuses at three different institutions over a five-decade span.
The agreement stemmed from an out-of-court mediated settlement and the fund's approval was key.
The fund paid $5,000 to support the lawsuit and stood to gain 10 per cent — about $1.5 million — once the compensation was made.
The organization contested the method of payment, which its lawyer said would prevent it from pocketing 90 per cent of any amount remaining if compensation did not reach the $18 million.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Claude Auclair was clearly annoyed at the fund's objection and asked its representative if he really wanted to endanger the entire agreement to get more money.
Samy Elnemr, the lawyer for the fund, acknowledged the situation was not ideal but said such agreements jeopardized the fund's financing and pointed out that the fund had helped to ensure that justice prevailed.
Auclair asked if it would be a proper administration of justice to likely tie the matter up in court for years.
He also asked if Elnemr recognized the judge had the final say in how the money was distributed and the lawyer said yes, although he did not rule out an appeal.
Eric Simard, the lawyer representing Holy Cross, decried the "greediness" of the state while victims' lawyer Alain Arsenault accused the province of levying "a tax on human suffering."
Victims were also shocked by the fund's stance. Sebastien Richard, vice-president of a group of victims from College Notre-Dame, said many of those present in court were overcome with emotion.
"Many of the people in there need to put it behind them," he said.
The agreement applies to three Quebec institutions that are now defunct —Montreal's College Notre-Dame between 1960 and 2001; College Saint-Cesaire, located south of Montreal, between 1960 and 1991; and Ecole Notre Dame in the Lower St. Lawrence region (1959-1964).