THUNDER BAY – A $110 million lawsuit has been launched against Ralph Rowe, Scouts Canada and the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin, alleging the two organizations’ “systemic negligence and breach of fiduciary duty” led to hundreds of indigenous youth being sexually abused by the former priest and Scout leader.
The statement of claim filed for the class action lawsuit filed at the Superior Court of Justice in Thunder Bay on Thursday seeks compensation for all people who allege they were sexually abused by the Rowe within the geographic boundaries of the Anglican Diocese of Keewatin between 1975 and 1987.
Rowe was convicted or pleaded guilty to nearly 60 sexual offences committed on dozens of victims, serving less than five years in prison.
He used his role as priest and Scout leader to lead religious services and character building activities as well as provided training and leadership skills that were “motivated by a sinister desire to gratify his improper sexual appetite for young boys,” the legal filing charges.
“Through the Synod and Scouts Canada’s systemic negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, Rowe’s sexual predation continued for decades,” the statement of claim alleges.
“By providing Rowe with the opportunity to abuse his power over these children in acts directly related to the psychological intimacy inherent in his role as priest and Scout leader, the Synod and Scouts Canada are also vicariously liable for the conduct of Rowe.”
The statement of claim alleges Rowe used an airplane owned by the Synod to fly into at least 13 remote First Nations communities, where he would stay for weeks or longer. He was appointed by Scouts Canada and the Synod to lead activities such as sleepovers, camping and related recreational activities.
Among Rowe’s ministerial responsibilities was to serve as a “religious teacher, enabler, trusted confidante, child care giver and religious leader.” It was through this position of authority that Rowe “engaged in sexually grooming behaviour and sexual activity,” the statement of claim alleges.
The representative plaintiff – 39-year-old Alvin McKay – lived in Big Trout Lake First Nation when between the ages of five and seven he was allegedly sexually assaulted by Rowe on at least three or four occasions. The statement of claim notes McKay has had multiple severe and long-lasting impacts including anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping, severe trust issues, alcoholism and other substance abuse, difficulty entering and connecting with intimate relationships and has been taking anti-depressants for the past 10 to 15 years.
Lawyer Christopher Watkins said the total number of victims could exceed 500.
“He flew into these communities. He had control, little or no supervision and it was spanning across the whole arc of Northwestern Ontario, primarily in the north of Kenora areas,” Watkins said.
Watkins said the actions of Rowe have left a lasting legacy of damage in many of these communities with the impacts now being spread out across multiple generations.
“If we start magnifying this out, we could be talking about tens of thousands of people,” Watkins said.
Earlier this year, the general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada released a statement recognizing the impact Rowe has left behind.
“We acknowledge that our past actions have helped to create a legacy of brokenness in some First Nations communities, and we express our willingness, in spite of failings and false starts in the past, to renew our commitment to dialogue and discernment that will help us understand more deeply and act more effectively on our responsibilities,” Michael Thompson said in the statement,
“We know that the trauma (Rowe) inflicted was not only on persons, but also on communities, and that its impact is intergenerational.”