$233,000 awarded for native-school abuse

The Vancouver Province
December 28, 2001

A 51-year-old man has been awarded more than $200,000 for sexual abuse he suffered at a B.C. native residential school as a child. The man, who was identified only by his initials, was sexually abused by a convicted killer hired to work as the school's baker. The man was sexually assaulted by Martin Saxey about twice a week from the age of seven until he was 11 or 12, he testified in B.C. Supreme Court. Justice Bruce Cohen found the Order of Oblates that ran the school liable for the assaults, awarding the former student $150,000 for general damages, $80,000 for loss of past earning capacity and $3,400 for future care costs. "It is clear that the plaintiff has suffered immensely as a result of the sexual assaults," Cohen wrote in the decision recently posted on the court's website. "Virtually every aspect of his life has been affected."

Saxey, who died in 1986, began working at the Christie school on Meares Island, near Tofino, in September 1955 after serving a jail term. The plaintiff and one older brother arrived at the school a year later. From 1900 to 1971, about 8,000 native children attended the Christie school. The plaintiff told the court how Saxey lured him to his room and sexually assaulted him. "I wanted to hide," he testified. "I didn't know what to [do]. I know I stayed away from other boys because I felt a lot of shame. I was so violated."

An older student who admitted sexually assaulting the plaintiff himself testified there was physical and emotional violence at the school. Discipline was "very threatening" and "very stern," he said. One psychologist described the school environment as a place where abuse could easily occur. The plaintiff testified that he has suffered from anxiety, sex-related problems and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He has flashbacks and nightmares and has pondered suicide. "Some days it was difficult," the man said. "It was hard to cope with life. It was hard to cope with society." The man abused alcohol until he quit drinking in 1983.

The Oblates' lawyer argued the religious order was not responsible for Saxey's abuse. He also claimed that the plaintiff had suffered many traumatic experiences in his life that contributed to his problems and that his family history predisposed him to alcoholism. However, Cohen said that possibility did not warrant a reduction in damages. "At this stage, the Oblates can only escape liability if they can demonstrate that the plaintiff would have become an alcoholic regardless of the sexual [abuse]," Cohen wrote. "I am not prepared to make such a finding."

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