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Details from the judge’s ruling in Quebec affirming a class action against JW child abuse

[Judge Chantal Corriveau and the Quebec Superior Court]

Our readers know we love court documents. And so we went hunting for a recent court ruling that we’d read some news stories about. At the end of February, Quebec Superior Court Judge Chantal Corriveau authorized a class action lawsuit against three Jehovah’s Witness ruling bodies in a 27-page decision.

We’re often asked why more people who have been harmed by groups like Scientology or JW don’t file class actions, and our answer usually is that class action lawsuits are a complete pain in the ass, take years to certify, and in the end the individuals in the class often don’t end up getting much from it after the lawyers get their cut.

Yes, we know that’s a cynical answer, and so when we saw that a plaintiff in Quebec had actually succeeding in getting over the initial hurdles of a class action, we were curious about the details. So we went hunting and found Judge Corriveau’s lengthy decision.

Whoops. It’s in French. Well, we’ve run it through Google Translate, which we are aware is not ideal. We’ve attached both versions at the end of this story, and we thought we’d pull out a few excerpts from it to give you some idea of what it took to get past the big initial barrier in getting a lawsuit like this going.

Judge Corriveau starts things out with a basic statement of the case brought by a Quebec woman named Lisa Blais, who was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family and was abused by her older brother.

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…She spoke to her family, to a Jehovah Witness and an elder, one of the spiritual leaders of the organization. These latter discouraged her from reporting her abuser to the police, as she would have risked to tarnish the image of Jehovah god.

The plaintiff wants to sue the defendants for their failure to report to the police authorities the sexual abuse, given the culture of silence that animates the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She sued the defendants so that she and the thousands of people experienced the same situation be compensated for moral and pecuniary damages suffered. In addition, she is seeking a conviction for punitive damages.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada (WTC) had argued that the statue of limitations had run out after three years, but Judge Corriveau disagreed, finding that the limit is 30 years. She also found that by defining the class as others who had been abused in Quebec by Jehovah’s Witnesses, the cases would be sufficiently similar to each other, and that it made sense to seek justice as a group rather than as individuals.

The Tribunal is of the view that there are enough common issues to authorize collective action.

Given that the remedy is based on sexual assault, collective action is the appropriate means. It would be difficult and impracticable for members, individually, to come out of the shadows and try to assert their claims.

Judge Corriveau then reviewed Lisa’s specific allegations…

The particular situation of the plaintiff
The applicant was born in 1972 in Quebec to a family adhering to the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was baptized in 1988 in this group. Her older brother, who was about 13 years old, was also a Jehovah’s Witness just like her father and her mother. The applicant’s brother allegedly assaulted her while she was a baby. He left the family home while the plaintiff was 5 years old. He returned to the family home while the plaintiff was 16 years old. The attacks started again. It was also at this time that the plaintiff’s brother confessed to assaulting her at the age of 10 months.

At the time of the brother’s return home while the plaintiff is 16 years old, he informed their mother about the sexual assaults on her sister. The plaintiff confronted her brother for the first time and asks her mother to intervene. The mother commanded her to silence. The applicant states that the father was informed of the sexual assault. No family member wanted to help her or denounce these acts to authorities.

The Applicant consulted another Jehovah’s Witness and an Elder seeking comfort, protection, and appeasement. The Applicant told the Jehovah’s Witness and the Elder
that she was thinking of going to the police to denounce the abuser, her brother. They answered that she should abandon this idea otherwise she would tarnish the image of God Jehovah. The applicant, aged 17, concluded that she must leave the family home to get away from the destructive environment in which she lived.

In 1996, at the age of 24, the applicant was excommunicated from the community. The procedure was silent as to the reasons and circumstances of this excommunication. The Applicant says that neither her family nor the Jehovah’s Witness she had contacted, nor the Elder had denounced the crimes she had entrusted to them from her brother.

What was the position of the Jehovah’s Witness organization defendants?

The defendants argue that the allegations are too vague to establish a fault or a link with the alleged damages. They consider that the source of damages of the plaintiff is related to the incest of which she was victim and to the fault his parents for failing to protect their child.

For the defendants, the plaintiff relies on her own opinion in order to support a link between the lack of protection by Jehovah’s Witnesses that she invokes and the sexual assault of which she was victim. Moreover, the defendants argue that it is not for the Court to interfere in the evaluation of religious practices.

Well that last point certainly sounds familiar.

We have US federal Judge James Whittemore in mind as we read this next conclusion of the Quebec court…

Finally, contrary to the contentions of the defendants, class action considered is not presented in order to prosecute a religion. Collective action does not call into question the beliefs conveyed. However, it is possible to submit to the courts ways of doing things that may be at fault and cause damage to victims. There is indeed a distinction to note. For Tribunal, the proposed class action is not intended to bring proceedings against the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses but rather certain modes of action.

There’s a lot more detail in the ruling, and we’re particularly interested in our legal friends giving it a look. If such a class action can be authorized in Quebec, could it also succeed in the U.S.? And for other groups, such as Scientology?

DOCUMENTS:
Judge Corriveau’s ruling in French
Judge Corriveau’s ruling in English (Google Translate)

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on March 13, 2019 at 12:15

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Tony Ortega is a journalist who was formerly the editor of The Village Voice. He’s written about Scientology since 1995, and in May 2015 released a book about Scientology’s harassment of Paulette Cooper titled ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely,’ and more recently a compilation of his stories, ‘Battlefield Scientology.’ He continues to monitor breaking developments in the Scientology world, as well as other subjects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can reach him by sending him a message at tonyo94 AT gmail.com (Drop him a line if you’d like to get an e-mail whenever a new story is posted.)

 

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