Thursday, August 26, 2010

Compensation for Bishop's students boosted by $150,000

Compensation for Bishop's students boosted by $150,000
By Irwin Block, Montreal GazetteAugust 24, 2010
MONTREAL - Compensation offered to former students at Bishop's College School who allegedly suffered sexual and physical abuse there more than 50 years ago has been boosted by $150,000 to $1.15 million.

But one alleged victim objected in Quebec Superior Court Tuesday to the dollar-figure, saying it's not enough for the years of suffering he's endured.

Justice Kevin Downs has taken under advisement the proposed deal, which would include the establishment "in the near future" of a truth and reconciliation committee for victims and perpetrators to testify voluntarily about the harm suffered or inflicted.

A total of $50,000 is being set aside to finance these sessions, while legal expenses and costs total $240,000. These amounts are to be deducted from the compensation fund.

Lawyer Bryan McPhadden, representing about 40 former students, estimated that of about 50 who might be eligible, 30-35 would accept the class-action lawsuit settlement and each end up with $20,000 to $40,000 in compensation.

There will also be private and confidential personal apologies. Those who accept would release the school of any future claims.

The offer was "more than reasonable," McPhadden told the court.

Lawyer Guy Pratte, representing the school, said the package offered a "fair, equitable and sensitive solution," conceding that as in all compromises, it was "somewhat imperfect."

"It enables the victims to have some sort of closure," he told the court.

Boosting compensation to $50,000 per victim, as some have suggested, or failure to conclude this settlement "could jeapordize the school's ability to function," Pratte argued.

The man known as MER - the identity of all victims is confidential - testified he was sexually abused once and beaten four times. He named the perpetrator of the sexual abuse and one of the beatings as Rev. Harold Forster, a teacher, choirmaster and chaplain at BCS.

Forster was fired in 1962 and died in 1967.

As a result of the abuse, MER said that since then he's had to consult some 30 doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists. He was first mis-diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder, and for the last 2½ years has been receiving therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said he was seeking "respect, closure, assumption of guilt, and fair and just compensation," though he did not specify the amount.

He agreed he had sought $50,000 in earlier discussions with McPhadden, but outside the court would not be tied to any amount, saying he might still sign on to the deal as proposed.

"My therpaist says I'm in remission now," he said with a smile.

Lawyer Carleton Monk offered his support on behalf of victim AMC with the caveat the school's apology had to be "immediate and public."

Another victim, known as CGB, criticized the school for having missed a "golden opportunity" to apologize for the abuse. He also called for $50,000 for each victim.

Lawyers usually advise against issuing such apologies until they are absolved of any further legal action.

Lawyer Irwin Liebman, who also represents victims, cautioned that failure to accept the compensation offered now could result in a lengthy legal process.

Accepting $20,000 to $30,000 today will not be much different from a theoretical $50,000 that could be won after an eight-year battle, he noted.

"This is the least we can do, a stepping stone," Liebman said of the settlement offered.

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