TORONTO — A notorious former Anglican minister and scout leader convicted of sexually abusing dozens of indigenous boys over a 12-year period is among those named in a lawsuit seeking more than $100 million in damages for lifetimes worth of suffering.
Lawyers filed the class action suit on Thursday against Ralph Rowe, the disgraced former cleric who courts found used remote First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba as hunting grounds for young boys to sate his sexual appetites.
The suit also names the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin in northwestern Ontario and Scouts Canada.
Rowe, who was ordained as an Anglican minister in 1975, spent the next dozen years flying himself in and out of isolated communities where he ran youth activities ranging from hockey games to overnight camping trips, usually in his capacity as either a priest or a registered leader with the organization now known as Scouts Canada.
Numerous criminal trials have heard that Rowe would groom young boys under the guise of playing games before ultimately sexually abusing them, sometimes for years.
Rowe stood trial multiple times on sex charges relating to dozens of boys scattered over the Anglican diocese where he served. He pleaded guilty to numerous charges and was convicted of many more over the 1990s and 2000s, but served a total of less than five years in prison thanks in part to a plea agreement that limited his time served to concurrent sentences on future convictions.
Jonathan Ptak, lawyer with Koskie Minsky LLP and lead attorney on the class action suit, said justice has not fully been served in Rowe's case.
He said the indigenous man named as lead plaintiff felt it was important to seek court action for crimes that have allegedly had devastating long-term impact.
"This is really an inter-generational and community impact," Ptak said in an interview. "There's successive generations of damage that have been caused by this behaviour in terms of children and the children of those children."
Similar sentiments emerged in a 2015 documentary about the former minister.
"Survivors Rowe," directed by Peter O'Brian, tells the story of three of his victims as they grapple with the abuse they endured.
"I don't remember what he did to me, but sometimes I see it in a nightmare," one man, speaking in his native language, says in the film.
"Whatever issues they have today happened because of Ralph Rowe," said someone reflecting on the case. "Our alcoholism, drug abuse, broken marriages, suicide is an epidemic. Ralph Rowe has a shadow over it."
The Anglican Church acknowledged as much this past January when it issued an apology to all those impacted by Rowe's years of involvement with the organization.
General secretary Michael Thompson said Rowe's actions have had a wide-ranging impact and even contributed to a high number of suicides among victims.
"We acknowledge that our past actions have helped to create a legacy of brokenness in some First Nations communities, and we express our willingness, in spite of failings and false starts in the past, to renew our commitment to dialogue and discernment that will help us understand more deeply and act more effectively on our responsibilities," he said in the church's statement.
He said the church has conducted a series of mediation efforts with the affected communities over the last 20 years.
The church has also abolished the diocese of Keewatin where Rowe served.
Church spokeswoman Meghan Hilty said the organization did not have any immediate comment on the recent class action suit.
Neither Rowe nor his lawyer could be located, and Scouts Canada did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The class action suit is seeking $110 million in damages, alleging all parties breached their fiduciary duties and are vicariously liable for what happened to the boys.
Those claims have not been proven in court.
Ptak said it is hoped the suit will help bring about policy changes in the two named organizations to protect future generations from harm.