06/10/2013 14:59 EDT | Updated 08/10/2013 05:12 EDT

$5M settlement approved in alleged abuse at N.S. orphanage

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has tentatively approved a $5-million settlement between the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children and former residents who claim they were victims of physical and sexual abuse while they were at the orphanage.

Supreme Court Justice Arthur LeBlanc tentatively approved the settlement Monday afternoon, pending approval from the Children's Aid Society in the Annapolis Valley. The $5-million figure had been reached earlier this year.

The former residents remain embroiled in a legal battle with the provincial attorney general who is arguing the province should not be held liable for what is alleged to have happened at the home.

The lawsuit claims residents were physically, sexually and mentally abused by staff at the home over a 50-year period up until the 1980s.

The Nova Scotia government says portions of affidavits filed in a lawsuit alleging abuse at the Halifax orphanage should be dismissed because the statements can't be proven.

The affidavits are part of a proposed class-action lawsuit launched against the government by about 155 ex-residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, who say they suffered years of sexual, physical and mental abuse by staff at the home.

The matter is being heard today in provincial Supreme Court, where the residents are hoping their lawsuit will be approved as a class action.

But first, the court must decide the fate of affidavits filed by the alleged victims.

Peter McVey, the lawyer representing the province, has asked that portions of selected affidavits be tossed out, including ones that he says include hearsay that can't be verified or speculation of what other people knew about the alleged abuse at the time.

Ray Wagner, the lawyer representing the home's former residents, said without the affidavits, there would be virtually no evidence to support the class-action certification motion.

Wagner also said it was uncommon for defendants to move to strike affidavits while a class-action lawsuit is at the certification stage.

He said an appeal would be launched if the affidavits are struck and the certification is rejected. If the appeal failed, Wagner said the complainants would move forward with individual cases in what would surely be a drawn-out process.