A class-action lawsuit can proceed against the Attorney General of Canada and the governments of Nunavut and the NWT as a result of a teacher who sexually abused students, a Nunavut judge has ruled.
Justice Paul Bychok found that the governments of the NWT and Nunavut owed the plaintiffs, numbering at least 50, a fiduciary duty of care, despite the governments’ objection.
Bychok’s June 15 decision allows for former students of Maurice Cloughley to join a civil suit seeking damages for sexual offences committed between 1967 and 1981 in several Nunavut (then NWT) communities.
Cloughley pleaded guilty to nine sexual offence during a mid-trial plea bargain in 1996. He originally faced 22 counts. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Thirty-seven of Cloughley’s former students have been attempting to launch a civil suit since September 2008. Three of them chose to move forward with a class-action lawsuit in December 2016 on behalf of all victims or their estates.
Bychok stated that “class actions may facilitate access to justice for plaintiffs who otherwise might not be able to afford to prosecute their claim… (it) will enhance the ability of some members of the class — who live in remote communities where there are no resident lawyers — to pursue their claim. Given the ongoing vulnerability of our youth in our remote communities, class action litigation may have a beneficial educational impact (behaviour modification). Class action litigation will certainly permit the court, as well as members of the class, to allocate resources more efficiently than several independent actions.”
Although Nunavut has not passed class action legislation, Bychok ruled that this case meets all the requisite criteria.
In regards to the government’s fiduciary duty of care for the plaintiffs, the judge noted that “Cloughley arrived here very shortly after the Inuit were forced off the land by the authorities and made to live in artificial and newly created remote settlements. It is a fact that the authorities undertook to and did establish and maintain localized health care, housing, schools and law and order in these newly created settlements.
“Henceforth, government exercised colonial power over the Inuit and enforced it, in part, by armed authority… the authorities placed Mr. Cloughley in a position of real authority and power over his young Inuit charges. These Inuit children were extremely vulnerable by the very essence and structure of this student-teacher relationship. Mr. Cloughley abused his authority and power over these children,” Bychok wrote in his decision.
Finally, Bychok also insisted that this class-action lawsuit be posted as a notice at homeless shelters for men and women in Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton to increase the chances that other victims are made aware and can participate.
“There are many reasons why people find themselves homeless; including mental health issues and ongoing trauma from childhood sexual abuse,” Bychok stated.