A Nova Scotia man has launched a lawsuit against a U.S.-based organization that runs a Guatemalan orphanage where he says he and others were violently abused for years.
Alex Chisholm Guibault has taken legal action against Casa Aleluya, an orphanage run by Build Your House on the Rock, a Louisiana-based Christian group.
The lawsuit was filed in Louisiana by lawyers working for Guibault. It seeks unspecified damages.
He got news the civil action had been filed in late October, on his 28th birthday.
“I feel like this is the best birthday gift,” he said. “Finally, justice is going to be served. I would say I’ve been waiting for this pretty much my whole life.”
Guibault had a rough early childhood and was on the streets of San Bartolomé Milpas Altas at age five or six when a police officer picked him up and turned him over to the orphanage. The lawsuit names several people connected to Build Your House on the Rock, including Michael Clark, the president, and Dorothy Clark, the vice-president.
The lawsuit alleges Guibault was abused for 12 years at the orphanage and that the Clarks knew about the “vile, violent and horrendous acts,” but did not stop them.
It alleges that two days after the child arrived at the orphanage “he was thrown to the ground and severely beaten with a tree branch by Mike Clark” because he was late for church.
“They can call it Christian discipline or punishment, but the reality is it’s torture,” Guibault said.
By the time Guibault was 19, he had tried to end his life several times. He knows many other kids from the orphanage who ended up taking their own lives, or disappearing into the streets of Guatemala.
But Guibault’s life changed that year when he met Leceta Chisholm Guibault when she visited the country. He was hired as her translator and they quickly bonded.
Later, she and her husband adopted Alex and he moved to Nova Scotia. He is applying to become a Canadian citizen.
“What I’ve been able to watch with Alex over the years since I met him was this transformation from becoming this teenager that was considered an orphan,” his mother said. “And seeing him transform into a son, becoming a Canadian, and understanding what his human rights are.”
New Orleans lawyer Justin Chopin and his father, Dick, represent Alex. Justin Chopin said the orphanage is owned and run by a group based in Louisiana, so his law firm has jurisdiction to act.
“What we hope to achieve is justice for Alex,” he said last week. “But not even just Alex — all of the children that are in the orphanage still to this day, some of which may have been subject to physical abuse, sexual abuse and, in Alex’s case, torture.”
The lawsuit alleges Guibault was often denied food, locked in a cell — including one six-month stint — and forced to use a bucket for a bathroom.
It also alleges that Guibault and other children were forced to stand naked in front of Mike Clark and others, and that Clark sexually abused them.
The lawsuit also alleges Guibault and others were regularly beaten at random, in addition to scheduled beatings on Saturdays. The lawsuit says Clark would not let Guibault be adopted and told him he was “too stupid and ugly” to find a new family.
Clark allegedly broke the boy’s nose about 20 times. Older children in the orphanage were allowed to abuse younger ones, according to the lawsuit. It includes signed statements from licensed mental-health practitioners who have spoken to Guibault that they believe he was sexually and physically abused by the group.
The allegations have not been tested in court.
Casa Aleluya’s website says Mike and Dottie (Dorothy) Clark founded it in 1989 and that 6,000 children have been in its care since then. It presents a positive image of a Christian-inspired couple helping children “with the worst abusive experiences and catastrophic health conditions” at the orphanage.
CBC News left a voicemail, and sent emails and social media messages to Casa Aleluya and Build Your House on the Rock, but did not get a response. The Clarks have not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.
Alex Guibault last visited the orphanage in 2012.
“When you see another kid who has been abused, you recognize that right away because you were one of them,” he said. “That was my case. I cannot tell you how happy they looked, because they were not happy.
“They all had struggles, as I did. So when I went in — it’s not the place that’s causing the abuse, it’s the people that don’t parent. The Americans, the missionaries who were there, they were the ones who were making the abuse.”
The case could take years to resolve.
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