The most significant aspect of the verdict was half a million dollars in punitive damages against the defendant, Basilian Fathers of Toronto, for their complicity and cover-up of the sexual crimes.
The case involved the historical sexual abuse of Rod MacLeod, a student at St. Charles College high school in Sudbury from 1963-1967. The abuser was Father Hodgson Marshall, then a Basilian priest who in 2011 was convicted of abusing 17 young people over his 38 year career. Shockingly, it was disclosed the Basilians had received at least three complaints of sexual abuse by Father Marshall before he was assigned to St. Charles College. The Basilian pattern of response to such complaints appeared to simply be to transfer Marshall.
The jury heard evidence that Father Marshall who served in Rochester, Toronto, Windsor, Sudbury, and Sault Ste. Marie, was reported a total of SIX times over his career however was allowed to continue. The reports of sexual abuse started in 1947, occurred twice in the 1950’s, twice in the 1970’s and again in 1989. In 1996 Father Marshall, admitted to his Basilian superiors that he had abused upwards of almost 90 boys over his career. The Basilian response was limited with no effort at outreach to the boys, no involvement of police and no publication of the fact that one of their own had left such a wake of devastation across the land.
Punitive damages are a rare and exceptional device used by the Courts to note reprehensible conduct which offends society’s sense of decency. This represents the largest award of punitive damages against the Catholic Church in Canada and is the first time a jury of average citizens has judged the Church’s handling of sexually abusive priests. It marks a turning point for the Church in Canada who, to date, have only been required to pay for the damage they caused victims but have never been fined or punished for their institutional conduct and complicity.
The Court of Appeal’s endorsement of punitive damages against the Church is historic.
This case and the impact of Father Marshall’s abuse on a number of his victims was showcased in the award winning documentary film PREY which is set to be aired by TVO on November 19, 2019. The film has to date played at Film Festivals in Canada and Europe. It is an emotional must see.
Rod MacLeod, the plaintiff behind this historic legal precedent reacts; “Today’s decision by the Court of Appeal validates the decision of six members of the public who spent three weeks listening to the evidence of how the Basilians conducted themselves and rendered a well thought out, detailed decision punctuated by the substantial size of the award.”