Prince George Catholic diocese hit with flurry of lawsuits alleging abuse

Prince George Citizen [Prince George, BC, CA]

July 13, 2023

By Mark Nielsen

Named as defendant in seven lawsuits filed since September 2021 with four of them in last three months

A Vancouver law firm has targeted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince George with four lawsuits over the past three months on behalf of clients alleging they were the victims of physical and sexual abuse while attending churches or schools under its jurisdiction.

Christopher McDougall of Preszler Injury Lawyers filed notices of claim in which the diocese is named as a defendant on April 19, June 27, July 7 and July 10, all at the B.C. Supreme Court’s Vancouver registry.

Details of the allegations claimed in the notices vary but all the allegations date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when the plaintiffs were youths variously attending schools or churches in Prince George, Vanderhoof, Fort St. John and Kelly Lake, just east of Tumbler Ridge. Priests, nuns and fellow students are named as perpetrators, depending on the claim.

The documents name The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Prince Rupert, also known as the Diocese of Prince George, as the defendant. Catholic Independent Schools Diocese of Prince George is also named as a defendant in one claim.

The claims seeks general, special and punitive damages.

None of the allegations have been tested in court and the diocese has not filed responses.

“A reckoning is underway as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver investigates many cases of historic physical and sexual abuse allegedly committed by members of its clergy,” the Preszler Injury Lawyers website says. “If you were abused by a clergy member or lay person affiliated with the Vancouver archdiocese, you may be eligible for compensation.”

The website also encourages pursuing the matters as independent civil claims as opposed to becoming part of a class action. Lower settlement amounts are listed among the drawbacks of relying on a class action.

“Our law firm does not take on sexual assault class actions because we do not believe they provide most people with fair compensation or access to true justice. We are able to ensure our clients opt out of class actions so that we can pursue fulsome compensation on their behalf that is more tailored to their actual losses,” the website says.

The diocese is also named a defendant in claims filed in August and September 2021 and January 2022. Two were filed by Sandra Kovacs of KazLaw Injury Lawyers, based in Surrey, and one by lawyers from Acheson Sweeney Foley LLP in Victoria.

Kovacs is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by an extended family member, according to the firm’s website.

She has sincere empathy for our clients’ circumstances because she has walked in their shoes, and she is keenly aware of the challenges survivors face in first accessing the justice system, and then realizing justice, the website states.

One of the KazLaw cases is tentatively scheduled for a 25-day trial in March 2025, according to court records.