Halifax settles abuse claim for $10 million

The Catholic Register - Archdiocese of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

November 23, 2022

By Quinton Amundson

The Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth will pledge up to $10 million to settle a class action lawsuit over acts of sexual abuse committed by diocesan priests dating back nearly seven decades.

This figure was reached between the archdiocese and the plaintiffs, represented by Halifax personal injury lawyer John McKiggan, in September, over four years since the class action was first launched in August 2018. Justice Christa Brothers of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court gave the settlement her seal of approval Nov. 14. 

Upon the court’s approval, Archbishop Brian Dunn said in all of this, the one thing that has to be kept in mind is the victims.

“While the class action suit is a constant reminder of the damage and great hurt that has been inflicted on individuals by members of the clergy, it is necessary to provide an opportunity for justice and healing for all victims. It is a hard thing to do but it is the right thing to do,” Dunn said in a statement.

The statement also emphasized that the archdiocese has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse of any kind — past, present or future.”

Dunn shed light on the next steps in an interview with The Catholic Register.

“We have a month now to ensure the (agreement) is accepted. Dec. 17 is the date when claimants can start coming forward, and they have a year to come forward,” he said.

McKiggan told The Canadian Press that “the settlement will pay about 90 survivors between $30,000 and $350,000 each.” He added that the total number of eligible claimants is “an estimate based on expert evidence and data collected from the American College of Catholic Bishops.”

Back in 2012, McKiggan secured $16 million in compensation on behalf of 142 victims of sexual abuse from Diocese of Antigonish clergy. 

The lead plaintiff in the case against the archdiocese is 62-year-old Steven Gallant. The notice of action and claim reveals that Gallant “was raised in a very Catholic family in Halifax. He served as an altar boy for parish priest Robert McDougall.”

McDougall, who passed away in 2008, served the parishes of Immaculate Conception in Truro, St. Lawrence, St. Catherine, St. Agnes and St. Patrick in Halifax, according to his obituary. He also served St. Thomas More in Dartmouth and St. Pius X in Fairview, N.S. In 1999, McDougall pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent sexual assaults for offences in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The Chronicle Herald reported on May 19, 1999 that McDougall was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, which could be served as a house arrest if he followed strict conditions, including having no unsupervised contact with any persons under the age of 18.

According to the statement of claim document, McDougall secured the trust of Gallant’s family and invited young Steven to stay at his cottage. The document stated the following: “McDougall offered Steven alcohol and told him that he would have to sleep in McDougall’s bed (even though there were three bedrooms in the cottage). McDougall sexually assaulted Gallant.”

The abuse profoundly changed Gallant’s life. He suffered depression and dropped out of high school. Gallant found out years later when he finally had the courage to speak out that two of his brothers were also assaulted by McDougall.

The document then details that Gallant and one of his brothers had several meetings with Archbishop James Hayes and McDougall to discuss the latter’s conduct. The archbishop instructed the priest to receive treatment at the Southdown Institute north of Toronto. Upon McDougall’s return, he was assigned pastor of St. Lawrence in Halifax.

According to the document, Gallant told the archdiocese that the decision was “dangerous and irresponsible.” Gallant then arranged his own meeting with McDougall to bid him to stand down from his appointment or he would call the police. McDougall did soon step down from his posting at St. Lawrence, but he was still permitted to fill in at various parishes from time to time.

Ultimately, Gallant and his brother did file criminal charges against McDougall with the RCMP, which brought a criminal conviction. 

Regarding the way ahead, Dunn said the archdiocese and its member parishes “have worked really hard to ensure we have a safe environment for everyone in all of our parishes, and to really show we are concerned for those we serve.”