The Supreme Court victory of a survivor of sexual assault against the Catholic Church established a costly deterrent against the cover-up of the abuse.
After an eight-year legal battle, Canada’s highest court dismissed an appeal from the Basilian Fathers in Toronto earlier this year. The ruling put an end to the religious order’s quest to curtail a historic civil jury award that punished the Church for its role in facilitating abuse.
Survivor Rod MacLeod says that over the years his motivation has never changed.
“It was about ending childhood sexual abuse, especially by huge, rich and powerful organizations… moving the abuser from place to place, protecting him and allowing him to continue doing this. it does, ”he said.
MacLeod was sexually assaulted by Basil Priest William ‘Hod’ Marshall in the 1960s while studying at St. Charles Catholic High School in Sudbury, where Marshall was a teacher. The abuse has occurred throughout MacLeod’s high school career.
“It was about 50 times in total,” he says. Much of this happened at school and in Marshall’s gymnastics teacher’s office.
“He would also catch you in the hallways, at school and pull you into a classroom that was not being used. Lock everything down, ”MacLeod says. “Then he started to come home.
It wasn’t until more than 50 years later, when MacLeod was in the car listening to a radio show about sexual predators, that he realized he probably wasn’t the only one. victim. He decided to come forward so that others will too.
In a 2012 deposition in a civil case against the priest, Marshall admitted to assaulting MacLeod and 16 other children. He pleaded guilty and was convicted of a criminal offense in 2011. He was also separately convicted of assaulting two boys in Saskatchewan.
Marshall would spend 16 months in jail for the Ontario offenses. Before dying in 2014 at age 92, he voluntarily gave up his priesthood.
“What this really showed me is that evil is incredibly difficult to control.
Meanwhile, MacLeod’s case continued. He says he was surprised at how vigorously the Basilians fought the civil lawsuit, given that his attacker was on tape admitting he had assaulted him.
“It was so clear that you were like, ‘Well, why are we even going to court?’” He said. “What this really showed me is that evil is incredibly difficult to control.
“But if we persevere, it is possible to overcome evil.”
In 2018, an Ontario civil jury awarded MacLeod more than $ 2.5 million, including $ 500,000 in punitive damages – an unprecedented amount for Canadian clergy abuse cases. The jury wrote that the Basilians hid Marshall’s behavior to avoid “scandal”, were “grossly negligent” and “put children in danger.”
“The punitive damages are huge because it’s an acknowledgment that they’ve done wrong. It’s six citizens and society who are judging the facts and saying it’s not just negligence, you were part of the problem, ”said lawyer Rob Talach, who represented MacLeod. Talach has represented more than 400 cases of abuse against the Catholic Church.
Prior to MacLeod’s victory, Talach says the largest punitive damages in similar cases were $ 7,500.
When deposed, Marshall said whenever he was confronted with his actions he confessed and would often be transferred to another school. He said he assaulted boys in almost every school he worked for.
All the institutions were managed or managed by the Catholic order of priests to which it belonged, the Basilian Fathers. With St. Charles in Sudbury, he worked in schools in Sault Ste. Marie, Windsor, Saskatoon and Texas. During his 36-year career, he also visited St. Michael’s College in Toronto on several occasions.
Although the Basilians agreed in court that MacLeod was injured by Marshall, they contested the 2018 award. At the Ontario Court of Appeal, they argued that the punitive damages were excessive. After that court dismissed the appeal in the fall of 2019, the Basilians asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. Their request was rejected in April 2020.
With MacLeod’s precedent firmly established, Talach predicts that its effects will begin to be felt in the treatment of other cases of abuse.
“It makes covering up the abuse something that no one can afford,” he says. “Not even the Catholic Church, because when you start getting fined half a million dollars here and fined half a million dollars there, the numbers go s ‘accumulate fairly quickly.
With the possibility of hefty fines, Talach believes organizations will now be more motivated to make credible settlement offers to avoid the courts.
“It’s a ray of hope,” he adds. “I hope there will be changes, I hope there will be prevention. I hope there will be responsibility. ”
Beyond the all-time high, Talach says MacLeod’s case has reached yet another rarity for abuse by Canadian clergy.
“This is historic because this was truly the first time that we were able to put the factual model in the public domain of Church complicity,” says Talach. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all model of facts, I see it in many cases, but we don’t always have all the pieces. ”
Marshall told lawyers the first complaint against him came to the Church while still studying to be a priest – more than a decade before he met MacLeod. He also said that when discussing his abuse with religious superiors, he was told to pray more.
The Basilians did not respond to a request for comment on the decision. They also did not respond to questions about why they appealed MacLeod’s case, declining to comment on priests, survivors or specific events. Their lawyer forwarded a statement on the Basilians’ sexual abuse policy and the history of the Church’s understanding of abuse.
“There has never been any doubt or misunderstanding that child sexual abuse is and always has been wrong,” the Basilians wrote.
They then wrote that there was a historical belief among professionals and Basilians that children would not remember or be affected by sexual abuse. They also say that the lack of understanding of attraction to children contributed to the belief that sexual abuse “was a moral failure and could be addressed through deeper spiritual focus and commitment.”
The statement added that they “have adopted policies that reduce or negate the possibilities of potential abuse.”
Talach says Canada’s legal system is designed to get the parties to agree, to deter them from resorting to court resources. That, and the trial burden on survivors to tell their stories and submit to scrutiny, means few civil cases ever go to a jury.
“He was a heavyweight,” MacLeod says, “However, I tried to focus on all the other casualties that came after me. I owed them a debt, and my debt was to bring this story to the public so that it wouldn’t continue.
MacLeod, now 70, would have had to pay the Basilians’ legal costs if he had lost the appeals or had been awarded a lower amount than previous settlement offers.
Yet her message to other victims of abuse is to come forward.
“It was definitely the best thing I could have done.”