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Victim urges Newfoundland government to do more to protect children of abuse

Scales of justice.
Scales of justice. - SaltWire Network

He’s a John Doe connected to one of the most horrific and publicized cases of child abuse and system failings in recent history — the victim of a mother whose abuse took years to be exposed, but he can’t put it in the past.

“I don’t know how long this is going to take,” said Doe, who can’t be named due to a publication ban and who is just coming to grips with a revelation from the province in a statement of defence in a civil case before Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

In it, the province acknowledges negligence for not having removed Doe from his biological mother at birth while his older siblings were removed from the Conception Bay North home.

Some siblings were returned home in the late 1990s and all of them, including Doe, were removed in February 2004 and the mother subsequently convicted of physical abuse.

The case, as reported in the news at the time, revealed the children’s terror and the mother’s ability to deceive child-protection officials while receiving a Cadillac package of supports. As mentioned in the amended statement of claim, they included transportation and daycare subsidies, parenting supports, respite and counselling services, all totalling six figures above basic social assistance, according to news reports of the time. The case prompted a report from the child and family youth advocate.

With the civil case outstanding, Doe says victims of child abuse are put through years of limbo over legal wrangling.

“It makes you relive all these horrific moments and won’t let you move on with it,” he says.

“It’s good they admitted (negligence), but government got the wrong approach to the Child Protection Act. They keep children with their parents at all cost. … If I was took out of that situation, I wouldn’t have half the problems I have today. I’d be living a more successful life.”

He said his troubles include a recent stint in Her Majesty’s Penitentiary related to a harassment charge.

He says he also suffers severe depression, insomnia and flashbacks to childhood incidents of being beaten, taped up and confined, and is being treated by a psychiatrist.

He hasn’t been able to work and struggles to finish adult basic education.

“It shouldn’t be a slow process when children’s lives are being affected. It don’t make sense.”

The civil suit, filed in 2016, is currently in the case management stage, said Doe’s lawyer, Steven Orr. The original expert who could speak to the extent of the damage had to withdraw due to illness and Orr is waiting on a new expert report.

Orr hopes the case can be settled, saying it would be cruel to subject Doe to a trial “given his mental health and the circumstances. It would be quite horrific at this point to make him suffer through a two- to six-week trial.”

The provincial Justice Department would not comment on the case, as it is before the courts.

Eastern Health, the second defendant, referred The Telegram to the court documents.

While the province admitted negligence for failing to remove Doe from the home and acknowledged that his biological mother was criminally convicted for abuse and other crimes against certain of her children, it said the specifics of the abuse laid out in the amended statement of claim need to be proven at trial.

As well, the province denies Doe was sexually abused.

Other than not having taken Doe away from his mother, the province said that during most of the time frame, the child, youth and family services functions were the responsibility of Eastern Health.

“The province only acknowledges that it was negligent in not removing the plaintiff from his biological mother’s care upon his birth in December of 1996,” reads the statement of claim, filed a year ago, denying all other allegations of negligence in the case.

From Doe’s perspective, the province was always responsible for the administration and enforcement of statutes and legislation that protect the welfare of children.

Doe was the fourth child born to his mother and father, and the seventh child born to his mother — he had three older half-siblings.

The three older half-siblings were removed from the mother’s care in November 1993 following claims of neglect and physical abuse by their mother — a fact acknowledged by the province.

His three older siblings were taken into care in December 1995 following a joint investigation between social workers and police into serious bodily injuries suffered by one of the older siblings.

Doe was left with the mother after his birth, though his siblings were returned in 1997 until 2004, when they were all taken away from her, including Doe.

She was subsequently convicted of crimes including criminal negligence causing bodily harm by failure to provide the necessities of life, unlawful confinement, assault with a weapon and common assault.

It’s specifically alleged in the civil suit that while left with his mother, Doe was deprived of the necessities of life, including heat, shelter, food, water and medical treatment.

Doe also says he was slapped, kicked and struck with objects like a belt and broom handle, locked in a bedroom for prolonged periods of time with no access to the bathroom, restrained with ligatures for prolonged periods, and forced to be complicit in the beating and forcible restraint of his siblings by his mother, and to witness the beatings. There are also allegations of sexual abuse.

In its statement of defence, filed in May 2017, Eastern Health — which was responsible for child, youth and family services in the region from 1998 to 2009 — denies it breached any of its duties or obligations to the plaintiff.

Eastern Health, noting the supports put in place for the mother, claimed it was her manipulation and deception that was at fault and caused Eastern Health employees’ and contractors’ attention to be deflected away from abusive behaviour inside the home, allowing her to hide the abuse from child-protection workers.

Eastern Health also claimed her ability to hide the abuse was further enabled by home-care workers’ lack of reporting, as they were in the best position to observe what was going on, given she received upwards of 40 hours of home care per week.

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