Supreme Court of Canada rejects Catholic archdiocese appeal over Mount Cashel

The Archdiocese of St. John’s is liable for the abuse at Mount Cashel in the 1950s, after Canada’s highest court declined to hear one last appeal from the Catholic Church.

The Supreme Court of Canada released its decision Thursday, simply saying it rejected the application from the Archdiocese of St. John’s.

The decision brings to an end a painstaking process for victims who were abused at the orphanage when they were children. The case has been snaking its way through the courts for 21 years. 

The case featured four victims who served as test cases for about 60 men in total. The church is now liable to pay the outstanding bills left behind by the Christian Brothers of Ireland when the organization went bankrupt from settling child abuse lawsuits in 2012.

The church had always denied it was responsible for Mount Cashel, since it was not involved in the day-to-day operations and the Christian Brothers was a lay organization — meaning its members were not ordained priests.

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador agreed with the church in 2018, when Justice Alphonsus Faour sided with the Archdiocese of St. John’s. A subsequent appeal by the victims was successful in overturning that decision in the Court of Appeals of Newfoundland and Labrador in July 2020.

The Archdiocese of St. John’s exercised its final legal option in the weeks following that decision, and asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case and deliver one final ruling. In rejecting that application, the case now comes to a close.

It could have broader ramifications for the church, as more victims could now come forward and seek compensation. It could also be used as a precedent-setting decision in other cases — whether related to the church or not — where an institution is accused of being liable for the actions of people working for them.

More to come.

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