The Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin is among the parties named in a proposed $110-million class action suit on behalf of victims of Ralph Rowe, a former Anglican priest convicted of dozens of sex offences against Indigenous boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
Koskie Minsky LLP, of Toronto, and Watkins Law PC, of Thunder Bay, Ont., announced May 11 that they had commenced the suit against the diocese of Keewatin, Scouts Canada and Rowe himself. The suit seeks $100 million in damages for “battery, assault, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and vicarious liability,” with a further $10 million in punitive damages.
According to the statement of claim, dated May 11, 2017, the synod “knew or ought to have known that Rowe was sexually abusing the plaintiff and the class.” It argues the synod failed, among other things, to screen and vet Rowe before hiring him, and to have proper standards in place for preventing him from carrying out his abuses.
The statement of claim names Alvin McKay, a resident of Thunder Bay, Ont., and a member of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, as plaintiff. It details sexual assaults McKay says Rowe committed on him between the ages of five to seven.
The lawsuit’s allegations have not been proven in a court of law, and the lawsuit itself needs to be certified by a court before it can proceed.
Lawyers for the firms involved in the lawsuit could not be reached to comment May 11 or as of press time, May 12. In a CBC story, however, Jonathan Ptak of Koskie Minksy acknowledged that some Rowe victims had already reached settlements in previous lawsuits. A purpose of this lawsuit, he said, was to raise awareness of Rowe’s crimes and effect change in organizations.
“There’s never been an opportunity such as this class action where all the victims can come forward, have their stories be told and hopefully we can bring about some real change in the policies and practices in the organizations that employ these people,” he said, according to CBC.
Rowe was serving as a priest in the diocese of Keewatin when he committed the offences. That diocese ceased operations in 2014, with the creation of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, but still exists legally as a corporation.
Contacted by the Anglican Journal a few hours after the class action suit was announced, both Archbishop Gregory Kerr-Wilson—who, as metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, is one of three members of the Synod of the Diocese of Keewatin—and Archbishop (retired) David Ashdown, secretary of the synod, said they were unaware of it. Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, declined to comment.
In a statement released in January, Thompson addressed “the legacy of Ralph Rowe,” acknowledging the Anglican church “helped create a legacy of brokenness in some First Nations communities” through Rowe’s actions.
“We know that the trauma he inflicted was not only on persons, but also on communities, and that its impact is intergenerational,” Thompson said. Thompson also said the time might be right for a “formal, national apology” for the church’s involvement. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he intended to make a public apology, but would need to consult first with Lydia Mamakwa, bishop of Mishamikoweesh.
Thompson’s statement came after comments made by Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation after the suicides of two 12-year-old girls in the Wapekeka First Nation, one of Nishnawbe Aski’s member communities, in early January. Fiddler linked the suicides to psychological trauma wrought by Rowe on his victims and passed on through generations. He blamed the Anglican Church of Canada for not acknowledging its role.
Rowe served four and a half years of a six-year sentence after being convicted of 39 sexual offences in 1994. He was convicted on additional charges in 2005 and 2009, and was given a two-year conditional sentence, to be served under house arrest, in 2012.
Rowe was ordained in 1975 after serving with the Ontario Provincial Police and then as a missionary pilot. He was also a scout master with the Boy Scouts of Canada.
Rowe was convicted of a total of 75 sex crimes, but some estimate the number of his victims to be substantially higher than that. The 2015 film Survivors Rowe estimated that Rowe had abused as many as 500 boys.