NWT, Nunavut held liable in sexual abuse class action
The Nunavut Court of Justice has ruled that the Nunavut and Northwest Territories governments are vicariously liable for the sexual abuse of students by a teacher in the 1970s.
As first reported by Nunavut News, Justice Susan Charlesworth made the order on Monday in a class action lawsuit launched by former students of Maurice Cloughley. At least 45 members say they were sexually abused between 1974 and 1979 in remote Nunavut communities.
The names of the members and the communities where they lived are protected under a publication ban.
“This ruling is very important because we are in a much better bargaining position now that the court has agreed with us that the government is responsible. Our clients have been waiting for justice for years and are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Lynn Moore, lawyer for the former students, said in a statement.
According to a news release from Morris Martin Moore and Cooper Regal – the firms representing the class action members – the lawyers representing the governments agreed the order should be granted.
In court on Monday, lawyers for both parties indicated they hope to settle the case soon.
“We’ve been honoured to represent the survivors, the vast majority of whom are women. They have been suffering for a very long time and they are looking forward to this case being over and done,” Moore told Cabin Radio.
“The clients are relieved, they have been incredibly patient because the legal process does take up a long time.”
The territorial governments had previously denied all allegations in the lawsuit, which alleged they were vicariously liable for the abuse and resulting damages, negligent in their supervision of Cloughley, and breached a duty of care and fiduciary duty they owed to the students.
Vicarious liability means, in this form of case, that an employer is held accountable for the wrongful actions of an employee.
Court documents state Cloughley was a teacher in several communities in the NWT and what is now Nunavut between 1959 and 1987.
In June 1995, he was charged with 22 sexual offences against some of his former students. In February 1996, as part of a mid-trial plea agreement, Cloughley pleaded guilty to nine of those charges while the remaining 13 were stayed. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Cloughley is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. Cabin Radio was not able to reach him for comment.
Cloughley was last known to be living in New Zealand in 2008. If he is still alive, he would be in his mid-80s.
Moore said both parties will be back in court on Friday to set a date for a settlement approval hearing, possibly for May, and said lawyers for the governments indicated they are “ready, willing and able to negotiate.”
“If everything goes correctly, we’ll have worked down an appropriate settlement that will finally bring justice to all these survivors,” she said.
Moore encouraged any other former students of Cloughley in Nunavut to reach out.