Telegraph-Journal (Saint John, New Brunswick)
Published Tuesday November 16th, 2010
Canadaeast News Service
BATHURST – The amount of compensation to be paid to sexual assault victims identified in a report to the bishop of the Diocese of Bathurst has been sealed by an order of the court.
Justice Fred Ferguson made the ruling after hearing arguments from legal counsel representing the diocese. Other information to be sealed includes the mediation fee to be paid to Michel Bastarache, a retired former justice hired by the diocese to identify victims and interview them about the abuse they had suffered and file a report to the bishop.
In his ruling, Ferguson said the information the diocese wanted sealed with a confidentiality order was a “very minute part” of the entire case. He agreed that the diocese would be put at a disadvantage in potential lawsuits if the information was made public.
“It would put the diocese in a competitive disadvantage to those who will oppose them. The principle to a right to a fair trial has to be maintained. It would be unfair to the diocese for those numbers to be circulated in the public.”
Brunswick News Inc. objected to having the information sealed, but withdrew the objection after reviewing a supplementary affidavit provided by the court.
During his ruling, Ferguson reiterated his belief in openness and transparency in the courts, saying the media’s role was important in getting the information to the public so they can form their own opinion.
“The media is the conduit for that.”
In its first appearance, legal counsel for the diocese had requested a closed court so none of the information from the case could be made public. Ferguson ruled against that last week.
The diocese has filed a motion to have the court allow it to access monies from trust funds set up to provide education to young men who want to become priests. The diocese has access to $4.75 million in unrestricted funds but requires money from 21 trust funds to compensate the victims, cover Bastarache’s fees and pay any potential litigation costs. The diocese has indicated it will pay any legal costs incurred.
In his arguments for the confidentiality order, Mark Fredericks of the Toronto-based law firm Miller Thomson said the commitment Msgr. Valery Vienneau made to provide compensation to the victims was unprecedented.
Fredericks argued if the information was not sealed and was made public it could push the diocese into insolvency, which would deprive the parishioners their traditional things such as baptisms, confirmations, last rites and comfort to the sick.
Co-counsel Robert Hayhoe argued the diocese should be allowed to use money from the education fund to pay the victims.
He said the diocese would leave $1.5 million in the fund, which would allow it to generate the necessary funds required for the education of new priests.
He told the court that from 1990 to 2010 the average amount used from the education fund was $57,000 per year and it had recently increased to about $65,000. From 1990 to 1999 four men were ordained as priests and from 2000 to 2010 two men were ordained and three men were still in the process.
Hayhoe noted many of the donations in the education fund were made by former priests.
“I believe they would want to support the general survival and mission of the diocese.
“The diocese wishes to do the right thing here and compensate the victims of rogue priests and do it in a way that it can continue to survive and support the people in the diocese.”
Hayhoe told the court about 35 people have agreed to be art of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process, 10 have not and two have made claims against the diocese. Vienneau later told the court that Bastarache will approach those 12 people before the Dec. 1 deadline to see if they want to be part of the ADR process.
Bruce Eddy, who was appointed as a friend of the court to act on behalf of the trust funds, told the court the best use of the surplus funds is to protect the main fund and the surplus will ensure the survival of the diocese.
Nancy Forbes, representing the Attorney General of New Brunswick, took no issue with the arguments.
After court, Vienneau said he was pleased with the process so far.
“Of course, we have to go through this process, I mean justice has to be done. These funds were given by people from years and years ago, we have to try and find a way to be just with those people too. We have to respect their wish and find a way to do that, but at the same time keep the diocese alive.”
Vienneau said they also need to take the victims and their needs into consideration and be sensitive and attentive to them.
“Some of them have had a very, very difficult time with this,” he said of the sexual abuse they suffered.
Vienneau said he has not heard from parishioners whether or not they agree with what the diocese wants to do with the trust funds.
“I hope they will understand that we want to keep the diocese alive and at the same time be just with the victims.”
Ferguson’s decision is expected to be released sometime next week.