HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government attempted to weaken a proposed class-action lawsuit by former residents of a Halifax orphanage who allege they were abused at the home, asking a judge Monday to dismiss some of the evidence contained in their affidavits.
The documents are part of a proposed lawsuit launched against the government by about 155 ex-residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, who allege they suffered years of sexual, physical and psychological abuse by staff over a 50-year period up until the 1980s.
Peter McVey, the lawyer representing the province, asked the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to toss out portions of selected affidavits, including ones that he said include hearsay that can’t be verified or speculation of what other people knew about the alleged abuse at the time.
McVey challenged the admissibility of an affidavit by Jane Earle, a former executive director of the home. McVey said Earle stated information as fact without backing it up, including that the orphanage’s low wages failed to attract qualified staff.
McVey said Earle did not meet the criteria for an expert witness, but nevertheless gave an “expert-style opinion” in her affidavit.
“These are opinions being put forward under the guise of a fact witness,” he told the court.
He also took issue with some of the language used in the affidavits, including an allegation that one victim suffered from malnutrition. McVey said the term “malnutrition” was an expert diagnosis, and that the plaintiff should have instead stated she was hungry.
McVey declined comment outside court.
Ray Wagner, a lawyer representing the former residents, said outside court there was nothing in the government’s arguments that surprised him.
He said the affidavits are central to their effort to have the lawsuit against the government certified as a class action and they were done to the best of the abilities of the former residents, given that they were children at the time of the alleged abuse.
“We’re dealing with old memories, suppressed memories, difficult memories,” he said. “So it’s not surprising that it’s sometimes a little bit vague.”
Lawyers for the former residents will make their arguments Tuesday. Judge Arthur LeBlanc is expected to release his decision on the affidavits Wednesday, after which the certification hearing would proceed.
If the class action is certified, Wagner said it could be 2015 before the lawsuit goes to court.
A separate lawsuit launched two years ago against the home was resolved in April after a $5-million settlement was reached with the residents. The settlement was tentatively sanctioned in court Monday, pending approval from the Children’s Aid Society in the Annapolis Valley.
In December, Halifax police and the RCMP announced they would not be laying criminal charges in the case after concluding there was not enough evidence to support the abuse allegations.
Premier Darrell Dexter promised in a throne speech earlier this year that his government would set up an independent panel to review the accusations.
The orphanage opened in 1921, but its role has evolved over the years, eventually expanding its services to promote the health and well-being of children and families within Nova Scotia’s black community.