Settlement Reached with United Church of Canada

April 1, 2015

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After four decades, a former Chatham man says he finally feels vindicated and relieved.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," Jim, not his real name, told The Chatham Daily News Monday.

The man's identity is protected by a publication ban ordered when he testified against his former church minister during a sexual assault trial in Chatham in March 2008.

Jim has since reached a settlement through mediation after filing a civil lawsuit against the United Church of Canada.

While he signed a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the amount of the settlement, Jim said he is finally a homeowner and in a better place, emotionally.

"The good part I can say is I can now enjoy the comforts of being in my own home and not dwell so much on the abuse that took place," Jim said.

Jim's lawyer, Rob Talach, of Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers in London, filed the civil lawsuit just over five years ago.

It was done two years after a Superior Court judge found the former Chatham minister Robert James Duthie not guilty on sexual assault charges.

"I went through hell and back when it came to criminal court," Jim said, when asked to remember the day he walked out of the courthouse after watching Justice Terrence Patterson find Duthie not guilty of indecent assault on a male and gross indecency based on reasonable doubt.

"One aspect Jim's case highlights is a criminal justice system has become so stringent with its rules of admissibility and its threshold of reasonable doubt," Talach said.

Talach said the facts that went before the criminal court in Duthie's criminal prosecution was an artificial world.

"There was all kinds of reality to Duthie's life—other victims, other incidents, run-ins, temporary reporting of Jim after the abuse to church officials—all that didn't get before the (criminal) court," Talach said.

For a person to be found guilty of a crime, the court must be satisfied of the guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.

A defendant in a civil suit will be found liable to pay the plaintiff if the evidence is sufficient to establish harm based on a balance of probabilities.

Talach said some evidence was "very instrumental in shifting the landscape on the civil case, which never would have got before the criminal court because of the rules."

That evidence included after moving to minister at a church in Cambridge, Duthie was stabbed one night in a Kitchener park known as a place men cruised for homosexual sex.

Talach said Waterloo Regional Police records were obtained to confirm the stabbing and circumstances around the attack.

More evidence showed that Jim reported his abuser to more than one senior church leader in Chatham.

The response was to not go to police, but to deal with his spiritual well-being through a religious experience called the laying on of hands and speaking in tongues, Talach said.

Mary-Frances Denis, program co-ordinator media and public relations for the United Church of Canada, told The Daily News she couldn't comment directly on Jim's civil lawsuit.

"The United Church is committed to providing a safe environment for worship, work, and study in all pastoral charges, congregations, institutions, agencies, organizations, or other bodies that operate under its name," Denis said.

"Any person who has used the professional or pastoral services of ministry personnel or employees of the United Church for purposes of pastoral care, counselling, marriage workshops, daycare, and so on, has the right not to be abused in any way. Complaints of sexual abuse or child abuse are taken very seriously and are dealt with in a spirit of compassion and justice," she added.

Jim has since moved away from Chatham to put some distance between himself and the place where he endured sexual abuse for about seven years, starting at age 11.

He has been married for nearly 30 years and has two children — a son and daughter.

Jim credits his wife's unflinching support as his source of strength to get on with his life.

"She should receive an award because she's been so supportive in this whole thing," he said.

Jim said he wanted to share his story to encourage other victims of sexual assault to speak out.

"That would give me excitement and joy knowing that somebody else come forward," he said.

While his road to justice was long and many years in the making, Jim said he never lost hold of the thought that it would come some day.

"I look at this home and every day I look at it, I'm going, 'There is justice,' because now I can move on to say 'Hey, I have something that I can actually enjoy and not dwell on the past.'"

Duthie died before the civil lawsuit was settled.

Published on March 31, 2015

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