Published Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 8:00PM EDT
Victor Malarek, W5 Senior Investigative Reporter
On a windswept hillside on the outskirts of Halifax stands what many call the house of horrors. Opened in 1921, it is the original site of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.
It was supposed to be a symbol of caring and protection for orphaned and abandoned black children. Instead it has become what many believe is ground zero of a devastating and historic cover-up spanning several decades.
Approximately 100 survivors, united in their childhood suffering, are speaking out for the first time about the horrific mental, physical and sexual abuse they suffered while in the home. They have launched a class action lawsuit seeking redress for years of neglect, and are waiting for the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to certify it.
Their tragic stories are contained in affidavits dating back to the 1920s, complied by the Halifax law firm of Raymond F. Wagner and viewed by W5’s investigative team.
According to Wagner, the documents show that incidents of abuse aren’t confined to the memories of the alleged victims. He claims they were documented and ignored by the Home and the Nova Scotia government.
“They knew what was going on but they wanted to play possum and pretend that they didn’t know so that nobody will be able to come back on them at a later point in time,” said Wagner.
The most damning and disturbing document – a major incident report prepared by the Home and a Children’s Aid social workerobtained by W5 involves the alleged brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl that occurred on June 6, 1983. The alleged rape by a staff member was reported to Veronica Marsman, a supervisor at the home who carried out a “thorough investigation” of the allegation which was forwarded to the board.
According to the major incident report, the board of directors suspended George Williams, a child care worker and driver. They also suggested “he be dismissed outright.” The board also discussed “that perhaps the police should be notified and that George be put in jail for his actions.”
However, the board decided that this “idea” . . . “be shelved” pending further investigation.
The girl, who was taken to hospital and, according to Wagner, received 18 stitches, was eventually transferred to another group home and the police were never notified.
George Williams was dismissed and sometime later was hired by a nearby day care centre as a bus driver. He was suspended from the day care last year when information about the alleged rape became public.
The alleged rape victim has declined to be part of the class action suit. She wants to protect her privacy. But 13 other women are involved in the proposed class action suit claiming the home and the province did not protect them from alleged sexual abuse by Williams when they were children.
Veronica Marsman lived in the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children in the 1960s for two years when she was a child and has fond memories of her time there. She is now the executive director of the organization which is now based in two newer buildings just down the road from the old home. It’s now a short-term residence for children of all races.
In an exclusive interview with W5, Marsman didn’t want to get into details about the allegations in the lawsuit, but she was asked by W5 about the alleged 1983 rape, at which time she was a supervisor. Oddly, she claimed: “I’m not even clear if I even knew exactly what did take place.”
Yet the 1983 major incident report states: “After a thorough investigation Ms. Marsman produced a written description of the events that took place that day …”
During the W5 interview, Marsman added that she was not saying she wasn’t aware of William’s dismissal over the alleged rape but “there’s more details to the actual circumstances that I’d like to go back and review. That’s been several years now. Many years.”
Williams wasn’t the only alleged predator in the home.
Tracy Dorrington recently summoned the courage to tell her story of rape and abuse while at the home in an interview with W5. Her alleged assailant, she says, was a man called Herbert Desmond.
“He threw me up against the wall. I tried to fight him off. And I knew I couldn’t get him off me. He was just too strong and he raped me.” Tracy was about 14 years old at the time.
Asked if she ever told anyone at the home about the alleged assault, Tracy replied: “I was scared to tell” because she was told by her attacker “No one is ever going to believe you. You’re a tom boy, you’re ugly. Who the hell is going to believe you?”
In the late 1990s, Tracy confided in Jane Earle, a social worker and former volunteer director of the home, about the abuse.
Tracy asked Jane to set up a meeting with the board so she could tell her story.
“She didn’t want money. She didn’t want to go to the police. She just wanted them to know so that no other child would suffer like she had,” Jane said in an interview.
To their shock and dismay, Jane says the board refused to meet with Tracy.
In affidavits filed with the court, Tracy and other past residents are suing the home claiming sexual and emotional abuse by Desmond.
Years later, Desmond left the home and ended up as an officer at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. He went on an extended leave in April when the allegations of abuse were made public. He retired from the commission in late October. Almost 20 victims are alleging physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Williams and Desmond, and claim the home and the Nova Scotia government knew and did nothing about it.
Both men declined repeated requests to be interviewed. However Desmond has previously denied the allegations against him to a local reporter.
Jane Earle says former residents deserve justice for decades of alleged abuse at a government funded institution. She told W5, “A public inquiry should be held. So that they have a chance to publicly talk about what was done to them and how it’s ruined their lives.”
Nova Scotia police investigating horrific orphanage abuse claims dating back to ’50s
The National Post
Postmedia News | Apr 11, 2012 10:40 PM ET | Last Updated: Apr 11, 2012 10:50 PM ET
By Douglas Quan
Just two weeks after appealing to the public for information, police in Nova Scotia say they have received 17 complaints of alleged abuse at a former orphanage.
Authorities say they were moved to act after former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children in Dartmouth went to the media with allegations of rampant sexual and physical abuse going back a number of decades.
A proposed class-action lawsuit, as well as dozens of individual lawsuits, have been filed against the home and the province.
‘You can’t fathom how severe the abuse is. It became systemic. It was just the way of life’
One former resident who lived at the home from 1955 to 1959, has alleged in court documents that he was sexually assaulted by “the matron” of the home, forced to eat feces and that a staff member forced his face into a maggot-infested rabbit carcass.
Another former resident, who was at the home from 1976 to 1979, said in an affidavit that she had to perform “sexual favours” for one male staff member in order to get rides to places and that he would withhold allowances unless girls kissed him on the lips.
Staff members told some of the children they were “stupid” and “useless,” she said.
RCMP Sergeant Bridgit Leger said a sergeant and three detectives from the RCMP-Halifax Regional Police Integrated Sexual Assault Investigative Team have been assigned to the case.
They also are digging through police records to look for allegations that may have been made against the home in the past.
Nova Scotia Archives
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children at its opening in 1921.
‘This is a matter that is before the courts. We have to let the legal process unfold’
Halifax lawyer Raymond Wagner, whose firm is handling the proposed class-action, as well as 56 individual lawsuits, said he is pleased the police are investigating but they should have acted years ago.
“You can’t fathom how severe the abuse is,” Mr. Wagner said. “It became systemic. It was just the way of life.”
Mr. Wagner said the province also needs to launch an inquiry into why years of allegations went ignored by provincial staff.
“Bring everything out and bring it to a resolution. The problem has been suppression.”
A spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services declined Wednesday to respond to calls for an inquiry.
“This is a matter that is before the courts. We have to let the legal process unfold,” Kristen Tynes said. “We are hopeful that the outcome will see justice served and bring closure for everyone involved.”
Halifax lawyer John Kulik, who is representing the home, said it is the home’s position that the plaintiffs waited too long to submit their claims.
Many of the employees in question have died, he added.
A statement of defence in one of the individual lawsuits says that the home adequately investigated, evaluated and monitored its employees and provided appropriate supervision to all its residents.
Opened with great fanfare in 1921, the home took in children who had been orphaned, neglected or abused.
The home received per diem funding from the province. It also generated revenues by operating a farm and selling eggs, poultry and produce.
After the farm closed in the 1960s, the home generated revenue by having residents participate in radio broadcasts, travelling choirs and an annual Christmas fundraising broadcast.
Promoting a “positive public image” was important, the court documents state.
Jane Earle, who served as executive director of the home for 10 months starting in 1980, said in an affidavit in support of the class-action that the home suffered from chronic underfunding and that per diems paid by the province to “white” group homes were “significantly higher.”
Ms. Earle added that the facility offered no programming, that staff were paid low wages, and that she never saw a child-care worker come to the home to meet the children.
‘Bring everything out and bring it to a resolution. The problem has been suppression’
The proposed class-action suit names two representative plaintiffs: Deanna Smith of Calgary and Aubrey Pelley of Toronto.
Including those who have filed individual lawsuits, there are now close to 90 former residents who have come forward with allegations of abuse, Mr. Wagner said.
Today, the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children operates the Akoma Family Centre.
According to its website, the centre provides short-term residential care for children of all races and cultures — a “safe place where brothers and sisters can stay together until that special foster family is found for them.”
Dartmouth orphanage must surrender records
Home for Colored Children has controversial past
CBC News Nova Scotia
CBC News Posted: Mar 26, 2012 7:14 PM AT Last Updated: Mar 26, 2012 8:58 PM AT
The Home for Colored Children in Dartmouth must hand over documents covering a five-year period.
Dozens of former residents at the orphanage allege they were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by staff at the home.
No one employed at the institution has ever been convicted of abusing any of the residents.
The former resident at the heart of Monday’s Supreme Court hearing lived at the home between 1955 and 1959. He wasn’t in court.
His lawyer Ray Wagner asked that the home be forced to produce records detailing abuse involving not just this client, but anyone at the home during the same period.
“What we’re attempting to do at this time here is to get information in the periods of time that the individuals were in to see whether there were any other complaints with respect to abuse in the home and whether those complaints were filed in the files,” said Wagner.
Justice Patrick Duncan sided with Wagner on that point.
John Kulik, the lawyer representing the home, predicts the search will turn up nothing and cost the home thousands of dollars in the process, as other former residents demand similar searches.
“There are 57 other cases and so plaintiff counsel will likely just renew this application with respect to all the other cases,” said Kulik.
“So, in reality, we’ll have to do this search through all the files.”
Whether or not the records from the home reveal any evidence of abuse, Wagner said the exercise could further support his claim of a coverup that will make up a large part of a class-action suit he hopes will be certified this fall.