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Foster Children Sue

May 26, 2012 permalink

Saskatchewan's Merchant Law Group is launching a class-action lawsuit on behalf of persons abused in provincial foster care since 1959.



Sask. foster care suit launched

Suggesting the Saskatchewan government failed in its legal responsibilities toward children abused in foster care, a Regina law firm has filed a unique proposed classaction lawsuit.

"Please hear the cries of the foster child. They were being hurt," Bernice McInnes, one of the named plaintiffs, said in an interview after the suit was filed Friday in Regina by Merchant Law Group.

At the age of 11, McInnes, then in Saskatoon, was removed from her own physically abusive home and placed into foster care in 1969.

The suit alleges that she endured six years of physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of her foster parents.

"It was quite life and death in there," said McInnes, now residing in Calgary.

The class proposed in the suit is all persons who suffered personal injury as a minor by a third-party on or after 1959 while in the care of Saskatchewan's Social Services, which did not pursue legal action or seek compensation on their behalf.

The action is being taken against the Saskatchewan government as represented by the Minister of Social Services, and the province's Public Guardian and Trustee.

"The defendant turned a blind eye to abuse that was occurring in foster homes throughout Saskatchewan in order to advance its own economic and administrative interests," says a statement of claim.

Social Services spokesman Andrew Dinsmore said the ministry would not comment on a matter before the courts. A statement of defence has not yet been filed.

A class-action lawsuit must be certified by a judge to proceed, so the filing of the claim is only the first step. A statement of claim contains allegations not yet proven in court.

Lawyer Tony Merchant has taken on a number of actions alleging abuse within institutions, including residential schools, correctional facilities, and a school for the deaf. As the self-described "goto guy on did bad things happen to you when you were a child," Merchant said he's heard from hundreds of people over the years who raised complaints like McInnes.

In many cases, the foster parents have passed away or don't have the financial means to make suing them worthwhile.

"This class action is a winner for the victims," Merchant said.

Unlike the government-run residential schools, the law prevents holding the government vicariously liable for abuse suffered in foster homes, which are an "independent contractor of the government." However, Merchant contends the government is responsible for failing to press the legal interests of those children who were abused in care. "They should have sued the abuser," he said. He plans to take similar action in other provinces.

Merchant is unclear of the size of the proposed class in Saskatchewan, but believes the numbers will be in the thousands. "I think it (abuse) was more prevalent than one likes to think," he said.

The claim contends the government not only failed to sue on the foster child's behalf, but also failed to report the criminal acts to authorities, so the offenders could be brought to justice, and should have applied for crime compensation.

One of the cases outlined in the suit alleges a young girl and her sister were sexually abused by a father and son in the same home. Although initially reported to Social Services, the children were temporarily removed from the home then returned, the suit alleges.

In the case of McInnes, who consented to being identified, the claim alleges a litany of abuses suffered, including a forcibly dislocated jaw, scalded hands, electrocution, starvation, and rape.

"You could obviously see I was abused," said McInnes, who questions why those around her, including her social worker and doctors, never took action. "In those days, abuse was very hush, hush," she said.

Aside from being heard and believed, she hopes the lawsuit brings significant compensation to restore a troubled life - "all the years I missed out on in my career."

Source: Regina Leader-Post