N.S. named in proposed lawsuit alleging abuse at two schools for deaf
The Nova Scotia government has been named as a defendant in a proposed class action lawsuit alleging systemic sexual, physical, and mental abuse against children who attended two segregated residential schools in the province.
The documents filed Wednesday claim the province failed the deaf and hearing impaired children from across Atlantic Canada in their care.
“We had already 60 people who have filled out forms and have sent to us,” said lawyer Ray Wagner.
The School for the Deaf in Halifax and the Interprovincial School for the Education of the Deaf in Amherst are the two schools named in the notice.
Richard Martell was 13 when he first went to the Interprovincial School for the Education of the Deaf.
Through an interpreter, he told CTV News it was an awful experience.
“We weren't allowed to sign,” said Richard Martell. “It was all oral education. The teachers didn't know sign language.”
He says he fell behind in his education, and there was also abuse.
“They would whack me with a book, or they'd hit me with a stick, or they would push me into the closet and close the door, and I'd stay there all day,” said Richard Martell.
He also alleges sexual abuse by a staff member - recalling a time in an open shower with other boys.
“He'd tell (me) to stay there and tell all the kids to leave and I want you to play with me, I want you to show me your testicles,” he said.
But he says no one did anything about it.
Mike Perrier went to the same school. He doesn't want to share details of his experience, but says he witnessed abuse and claims students weren't properly educated.
He's speaking out for friends who feel they can't.
“They need someone to trust and they asked him to get involved to speak out and speak the truth for the deaf community,” said Perrier, through an interpreter.
The school in Halifax closed in 1961, and the one in Amherst in 1995. Children from all four Atlantic provinces went there.
“(Students) were deprived of an education,” said Wagner. “They were impaired because of the abuse they suffered, and they weren't able to care for themselves financially after all these years, and they're left now with really little education and little opportunity.”
"Any allegation of abuse we take very seriously,” said the Nova Scotia Justice Department in a statement. “We have only just received the notice of intended action. We are not in a position to comment at this time."
Gordon Martell, whose parents attended the school, says the government should have known better.
“In regards to a child going to an institution not knowing what to expect, and the very first time they step in is nothing but abuse,” he said.
Gordon and his twin sister, Bonny, say their parents will be part of the claim.
“These children were not able to speak, so there was an extra layer of vulnerability that existed in the deaf community and they were taken advantage of,” said Bonny.
In addition to the 60 people who already filled out paperwork, another 80 from the deaf community took part in a recent town hall meeting.
The allegations date back to 1913, right up until the second school closed in 1995.
The proposed class action will start in two months.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jacqueline Foster.