Winnipeg man sues children’s social agency, former employees, residents for alleged sexual, physical abuse

WARNING: This story contains details of sexual and physical assault.

A Winnipeg man is suing a non-profit children’s social services agency, claiming he was abused by employees and two residents during his time there in the 1990s.

The man, who was born in 1985, was placed in the care of Child and Family Services in or around 1990 and put in a number of foster homes before he was sent to a residential treatment program at Winnipeg’s Knowles Centre from 1994 to 1996, the lawsuit says.

The program was meant to help children facing tough times in their lives, it says. The man stayed there from the age of nine until he was 11.

In a statement of claim filed on April 4, the man alleges the centre and former employees breached their fiduciary duty to him, as he claims to have experienced neglect, sexual assault and deliberately inflicted pain and suffering during his time there.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Minimal staff supervision

He stayed in a residential cottage at the centre with a number of other children, including the two named in the suit, who were older than he was.

The cottage had two main areas: rooms where residents slept, which had doors with no locks, and a communal area. Supervision by staff was limited in the cottage, the suit says, and residents were allowed to enter the rooms of other children without oversight.

The suit alleges a male resident started entering the plaintiff’s room soon after he was placed into the centre’s care and sexually assaulted him there regularly for over a year.

The plaintiff also alleges a female resident sexually assaulted him once in the communal area of the cottage.

He says he was not asked by the centre whether he felt safe sleeping in the cottage alongside residents older than him or of a different gender, nor did they ensure the safety of the cottage through continual supervision.

Punitive damages sought

The plaintiff says he was emotionally and physically dependent on the centre during his stay there, which is therefore legally responsible for the abuse former employees and fellow residents inflicted on him, the lawsuit says.

He experienced recurrent and unwarranted punishments from employees, such as repeated hitting, being stripped naked and being forcefully confined in a locked room in front of staff and residents, the statement of claim says.

Disability and emotional distress were caused to the plaintiff by the assaults, the lawsuit alleges.

The man now seeks a range of damages from the Knowles Centre and its former employees, including the loss of past and future income, punitive damages and expenses involving future care, deliberately inflicted pain and suffering, legal expenses and special damages.

He is also suing two former residents for the same damages, in addition to costs related to the sexual assaults he claims they inflicted on him.

The residents took advantage of the plaintiff’s vulnerability as a young child and must have known that their alleged behaviour was abusive and unwelcome, and would cause the plaintiff serious physical and psychological harm, the lawsuit says.

The former employees took advantage of the plaintiff’s vulnerability and placement in the care of CFS, causing psychological, physical and emotional injuries, the statement of claim says.

They also did not protect him from the sexual assaults and punished him in ways that caused significant distress, the claim says.

Lifelong effects

The centre failed the plaintiff by not properly screening, supervising and training employees, and through a lack of consistent supervision of residents in the cottage and a failure to assess the risks of putting them together, the lawsuit says.

The centre also did not warn residents about abuse or sexual assault, advise them to report abuse, or monitor residents for signs of abuse or investigate to determine if any abuse was taking place on its premises, the claim says.

The plaintiff claims to have suffered and continue to suffer injuries and harms related to his time at the Knowles Centre, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and attempts to end his life.

He turned to drugs to numb his feelings related to the abuse he suffered and struggles with addiction, which caused him to drop out of school and sell drugs, the lawsuit says.

He has been in and out of jail since he was 15, has had trouble maintaining an education or employment, and requires significant medical and psychological treatment due to his experiences at the centre, he says in the statement of claim.

The plaintiff says he was embarrassed and fearful to bring the case forward, repressing his grief and anger, but has now realized the lifelong effects of what he alleges was done to him.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911. 

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