Lack of charges disappoints former N.S. orphanage resident
Published Friday, December 14, 2012 9:10AM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 14, 2012 9:32AM EST
A former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children says he is baffled as to why the RCMP and Halifax have decided not to lay criminal charges into allegations made by dozens of former residents regarding physical and sexual abuse at the hands of staff.
Tony Smith, who spent over three years at the orphanage in the 1990s and was one of the first to speak out about allegations of abuse, tells CTV’s Canada AM that even though years have passed since many of the alleged crimes took place, he had still hoped there would be justice.
“I thought there was a reasonable chance of charges due to the overwhelming documentation of people who were eyewitnesses to these encounters,” he said. “We knew full well going into the lawsuit -- a great percentage of us knew -- that we wouldn’t be able to bring our perpetrators to trial because many were deceased. So it’s very disappointing that no charges will be laid (against those who are alive).”
A number of former residents of the orphanage have accused staff at the home of abusing them over a period of decades. More than 100 people are now a part of a bid to launch a class-action lawsuit against the home and the provincial government.
Police in Nova Scotia were also looking into criminal charges. In March 2012, the RCMP and Halifax police began encouraging people to come forward with their allegations.
Investigators interviewed 40 complainants in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta.
But the police forces issued a joint statement Thursday saying they can't lay criminal charges because none of the allegations could be backed up by other witnesses.
"The information obtained was unable to be corroborated to meet the threshold that would formulate reasonable and probable grounds to lay criminal charges," the police said.
Ray Wagner, who is representing the group in their class-action suit, says the people he represents were stunned.
“The biggest thing is disappointment; the second biggest thing is bewilderment. I can’t really explain to them, even as a lawyer … the logic behind them not laying charges... It’s unusual that I can’t put it into lay language because quite frankly I really don’t understand it,” Wagner said.
Wagner says many of these people stayed silent for years but came forward under their encouragement and the police’s encouragement to tell their stories.
“They laid their complaints under a very difficult process. And there’s a lot of history that exists between the African-Nova Scotia community and the police of mistrust. But they found it in themselves to come forward, and now they’re disappointed and bewildered,” he said.
Smith says he thought there would at least be charges laid into the alleged violent rape of a 14-year-old resident in 1983, which prompted home staffers to file what’s known as a “critical incident report.”
Home staffers at the time said they felt the girl was telling the truth about the attack, even though the alleged perpetrator denied it. That staffer was suspended and ended up resigning, but the complaint was never brought to the police.
Smith also told CTV Atlantic that it should be left to a jury or a trial judge to decide whether the stories can be corroborated, not the police.
Meanwhile, Wagner says the bid for the lawsuit is still going ahead.
“When we started the action back in 2001, it was never against individuals; it was always against the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and the provincial government.”
Earlier this year, 63 former residents applied for the class-action lawsuit. A certification hearing was held in October and a ruling on whether that lawsuit can go ahead is expected next June.
After CTV’s W5 aired a documentary taking an in-depth look into the allegations of abuse at the home, the law firm received an influx of calls from others affected. There are now more than 100 people hoping to join the suit.
Smith says he will also continue the push for an inquiry.
“We’re not giving up, not by any stretch of the imagination. As I said when we first started, we weren’t looking to single out any individuals or even be a part of the criminal investigation,” he said
The provincial government had said it wouldn’t proceed with an inquiry while the police investigation was underway. Justice Minister Ross Landry said Thursday he will now consult with his caucus and others on the matter.
"There are individuals there that are very emotionally harmed and that needs to be addressed," he said. "They need to have an avenue in which to express that and how that would look is another question."
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie says the province shouldn't hesitate to launch the inquiry.
"They are running out of excuses for avoiding doing the right thing," he said. "My view is that Nova Scotia cannot move on and assure a whole new generation of Nova Scotians that it can't happen again until we've had a full and open and transparent public inquiry."