Multi-million-pound settlement in Canadian church abuse case

Church Times [London, England]

September 22, 2023

By Rebecca Paveley

A settlement worth millions of pounds in the case of one of Canada’s most prolific sexual abusers has been agreed with the Anglican Church of Canada and Scouts Canada.

A former priest and volunteer with the Scouts, Ralph Rowe, is believed to have abused hundreds of boys in Indigenous communities in Ontario and Manitoba in the 1970s and ’80s.

Rowe has a total of nearly 60 convictions for sexual abuse, but he served less than five years in prison, owing to a plea bargain. Now in his eighties, he lives on Vancouver Island.

The class action against his employers, the Anglican diocese of Keewatin and Scouts Canada, was begun in 2017. The diocese and the Scouts had previously accepted shared liability for their failure to stop his abuse. A proposed settlement was agreed last month, and posted on the website of the law firm representing the survivors, but still needs to be formally agreed by a judge next month.

The settlement document suggests that the payout could reach $13.25 million Canadian dollars (£7.7 million). Each individual survivor could be eligible for up to $350,000, depending on the circumstances of the abuse, the document says.

The agreement also stipulates that the General Synod of the Anglican Church “shall engage in a consultation process with the impacted Indigenous communities and arrive at a mutually acceptable apology process”.

Scouts Canada is also to provide a written apology.

Jonathan Ptak, a partner of Koskie Minsky LLP, which brought the class action, described Rowe as “one of the worst and most prolific abusers in the history of this country.

“His abuse was devastating to Indigenous communities in northern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. If approved, the settlement will provide real compensation to survivors of abuse committed by Rowe through a trauma-informed and sensitive claims process.”

The Toronto Star reported that Rowe was ordained in 1975, and charged with ministering to the remote First Nations communities of northern Ontario. He flew regularly to the area in a private plane, learned the local language, and took groups of boys away camping.

A TV documentary in 2015 suggested that Rowe could have abused as many as 500 boys.

The diocese of Keewatin comprised more than 900,000 square kilometres, and consisted of mostly First Nations communities. It was formally closed in 2015, and its parishes were merged into two other dioceses, but a corporation of four people has been retained to deal with the lawsuit.

A spokesman for the Anglican Church of Canada said that it could not comment, as it was awaiting the final hearing on the settlement on 27 October.