Judge rejects class-action lawsuit attempt by alleged sexual abuse victims of Alberta priest

A group of men who allege they were sexually abused as teen inmates will not be allowed to attempt a class-action lawsuit, an Alberta judge has ruled. 

The 14 men say they were assaulted by Anglican priest Rev. Gordon William Dominey when they were teen inmates at the Edmonton Youth Development Centre in the 1980s. 

Dominey was set to go to trial in January 2020 on 33 charges related to alleged historical sexual offences against 13 former inmates, but he died on Nov. 7, 2019, at age 67.

At a hearing in January, the men argued that they should be certified as a class and be allowed to sue the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Edmonton and the province for having failed to protect the youths from Dominey.

They argued that getting approval to sue as a group through a class-action lawsuit would make accessing justice easier for many of the men who are poor and who face challenges that would make it difficult to get a lawyer and sue on their own.  

The diocese and province deny they are liable to the men in any way, and opposed the certification application.

Dominey was originally named as a defendant as well, but his estate has been noted as being in default.

None of the allegations in either the criminal or civil case have been proven in court.

In a decision filed Monday, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice John Henderson dismissed the class-action application, finding that it would be better for each man to sue for damages on their own and that this route would be faster.

“Proceeding by way of individual actions will permit counsel to focus on the liability issues that immediately affect the individual claimant,” Henderson wrote in the decision. “Individual actions can proceed much more quickly and would not be as cumbersome as a class action.”

Hard to accept

It’s a blow for the 50-year-old man who got the class action attempt started in 2017 – he worries this will mean some of the men won’t ever get their day in court now. His identity is protected by a publication ban.

“It’s a hard one to accept,” said the man who works in British Columbia. “There was so much work and time and effort put into this.”

He said for him the action isn’t about money. He said he wants to see the church and province take accountability and apologize so that he and the other men can get closure.

“These people were put in a position of trust that they betrayed,” he said. 

A spokesperson for Alberta’s ministry of justice declined to comment Tuesday, citing the possibility of an appeal. The archbishop of the Diocese of Edmonton did not respond to a request for an interview.

Avnish Nanda, the lawyer for the men, said news of the application being dismissed is a disappointment for his clients who are middle-aged men living in difficult circumstances.

“For many of them, this might be the end of the road because they’re just not able to have their own lawsuit. They just don’t have the means or the resources or the mental fortitude to relive the trauma associated with their sexual abuse,” he said. 

‘Illusion of access to justice’

In his decision, Henderson agreed that some men will face barriers to being to bring lawsuits on their own and that there are some common factors in all cases that would need to be argued in court. These include things like details of Dominey’s employment, and could be dealt with in what’s called a common issues trial.

However, Henderson said that because each of the men would have to give evidence about the specific abuse they say they experienced, a class action would end up looking like a series of individual trials anyhow.

“I conclude that certification will only create an illusion of access to justice, because these benefits will be restricted to the common issues trial,” Henderson ruled. 

Nanda said he’s unsure if his clients will appeal, or if they will begin launching individual actions.

One of the proposed class members had already retained his own lawyer, and said Tuesday he’s ready to find out how to move forward on his own. 

The 51-year-old, who now lives on Vancouver Island, said he was robbed of a chance to see Dominey face the allegations during a trial, but he remains committed to holding someone to account for what he says he went through. 

“I want my day in court, that’s how this is going to end,” he said.

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