Former Justice To Negotiate Abuse Settlements

April 21, 2010

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The Diocese of Bathurst is planning to offer compensation to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and has asked former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache to negotiate a settlement.

Bathurst Bishop Valéry Vienneau said in a statement the diocese recognizes the suffering experienced by victims of abuse and wants to help resolve the issue.

"Many victims have rightly called for the diocese to account, and we will do so to the best of our abilities," Vienneau said in the statement, which was read on the weekend at Roman Catholic churches across the diocese, and has been published in several local newspapers.

"To this end, the issues we seek to resolve in this process (are) to validate victims and recognize the harm done to them, while offering them fair compensation "¦"

Bastarache has been tasked with preparing a compensation package for the victims in the diocese, including those of Lévi Noël, the retired Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty last October to 22 sex-related charges involving 18 boys.

"They asked me to obtain all possible information on victims of the incidents, the crime, and evaluate how much a settlement is for a case like this one," Bastarache said in an interview.

Bastarache, who now works at a law firm in Ottawa, is asking anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse by a member of the Bathurst Diocese to come forward.

"It's for all the victims of the diocese," he said.

"If we find the evidence fits, they will be considered."

Father Wesley Wade, the vicar general of the diocese, said in an interview the diocese is trying to take the lead to help resolve the issue.

"We were reading in the media that the victims wanted us to come to them," he said.

"The focus was on the victims on Father Noël, but we're opening the door to other victims."

Wade said the diocese continues to take steps to ensure that such abuse never happens again.

The incidents involving Noël took place between 1958 and 1981 while he was working at eight different parishes in the Bathurst diocese. His victims were between eight and 16 years of age at the time.

An Ontario law firm representing several of Noël's victims said in a statement it appears the diocese has "risen to the challenge" it had issued.

The firm praised the appointment of Bastarache, but said it hopes that this process will not stop at compensation, and "will at some point also examine any institutional responsibility of the diocese for the horrific crimes which transpired in their jurisdiction for decades."

"We cannot avoid repeating the mistakes of the past until we fully understand how they occurred," said the statement by Ledroit Beckett Litigation.

Bastarache said he plans to meet with victims in the coming months, go over his findings during the summer, and ensure they are compensated by the end of the year.

Last year, a historic class-action settlement compensated dozens of alleged victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Nova Scotia after a lawsuit was filed against the Antigonish diocese and Halifax archdiocese.

The settlement created a fund of up to $15 million to provide survivors with compensation without having to go to public trial. It also required the Diocese of Antigonish to publicly acknowledge its responsibility and apologize for its role.

Earlier this month, Bastarache agreed to investigate explosive allegations by a former Quebec justice minister who says Liberal fundraisers pressured him to appoint certain judges in 2003 and 2004.

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