A lawyer representing dozens of men alleging sexual abuse at a Nova Scotia youth correctional facility is awaiting news of the RCMP investigation into the allegations.
Police will be holding a news conference Wednesday morning to give details into the investigation dubbed Operation Headwind, which looks into incidents of sexual assault at the Nova Scotia Youth Centre in Waterville, N.S., between 1988 and 2017.
RCMP have indicated they will also launch a confidential hotline.
Among those watching the announcement closely is Mike Dull, a litigation lawyer with Valent Legal, who is heading up a class action lawsuit. He said “close to 200” men have approached his law firm and have “alleged some degree of sexual misconduct at the facility.”
“When I was approached by a few men probably six or seven years ago now, over allegations of sexual misconduct by a swim instructor at the Nova Scotia Youth Centre … I could not have anticipated it to have grown to what it has,” said Dull.
He said his clients were vulnerable youths and their experiences at the facility have shaped their lives.
“Frankly, most of those men have gone on to have complicated histories with the law. You know, it is a byproduct of childhood trauma,” said Dull.
“For them to hear that the police are taking their complaint seriously is huge. And it reinforces that the courage that they’re taking in coming forward to the police has been rewarded.”
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El Jones, a prisoner advocate and professor, has worked with some of the people affected by the alleged incidents at the Nova Scotia Youth Centre.
She said the alleged abuse was “particularly traumatic” because they were in a provincial facility and “under government control.”
“These are people that have complete control over you. So there was really no way for people to tell or resist,” she said.
She added it has been a long and difficult journey for the men, many of whom were apprehensive about speaking out.
“We’ve been hearing these stories for years. Many of the men that I work with experienced abuse in this institution and disclosed it and we know that’s extremely difficult for men,” she said.
“Many of these men still remain in prisons due to the trauma that they experienced as youth. So to have to come and testify from those conditions is even more difficult.”
She said the victims may not have had access to therapy or counselling. Some have ended up further being involved in the criminal justice system due to that trauma, Jones added.
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“I think for many of them, they sharply feel that injustice. So I think we’re all hoping that there will be news that supports the survivors when we hear about it,” she said.
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Meanwhile, Dull said the class action has been “moving forward slowly but steadily,” due in part to pandemic delays. He said lawyers have gone through discovery examinations and the next step is scheduling a common issues trial before a Supreme Court judge. He estimates that trial will be scheduled two years from now.
Dull said ultimately, his clients are looking for redress, which in this case would be financial compensation.
“It is the limits of the law for good or for bad. Where a child is sexually abused by a provincial employee … then the province bears responsibility for that as a just point of law,” he said.
Aside from the class action lawsuit, he pointed out that his clients “are very interested” in the outcome of the criminal investigation.
“Tomorrow’s a huge day for my clients. Tomorrow’s a huge day for the survivors of abuse at Nova Scotia Youth Centre,” he said.
“They have suffered in silence for four decades. It’s taken a tremendous amount of courage for many of them to reach out to police agencies who they have had a complicated relationship with … and for that courage to be rewarded and respected is huge.”
— with files from Global News’ Megan King
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