ABOVE: Watch 16X9’s investigation into the shocking story of a former Saint John, NB police officer who was charged with sexually assaulting children while working on the police force.
Survivors of one of the worst child sexual abusers in Canadian history filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.
Kenneth Estabrooks was a police officer for 22 years. His crimes remained a secret, and his victims suffered alone for decades, until dozens finally broke their silence this year during a months-long 16×9 investigation.
“For more than 30 years Kenneth Estabrooks preyed on children and youth in Saint John,” says lawyer John McKiggan. “Persons in authority turned a blind eye, or worse, covered up his sexual activities.”
Only days after 16×9’s story aired in September, the city disclosed that investigators looking into Estabrooks’ history of abuse have uncovered at least 260 suspected victims.
Fifty-four year-old Bobby Hayes is the lead plaintiff in the class action representing those victims. He has harrowing memories of the first time he was chased and abused by Estabrooks, when he was just 11 years old.
READ MORE: A city’s shame: uncovering long-held secrets
“Some of my friends of course they got away, and I was the unlucky one. And he slammed my head in the wall and told me I was stealing…then he started the search and of course sticking his hands down my pants.”
Hayes says dozens of his friends were also sexually abused by Estabrooks, who used the authority of his badge to get them in his car and abused them in remote locations around the city. The victims were intimidated into remaining silent, but Hayes claims many other police officers and city officials knew what was going on.
“See that’s the hard part. That is the hard part, how could people have sat by and watched this happen? Our whole community suffered because of what has happened. I started seeing my friends and drug addicts, some of them are dead now, but the addictions and the depression…when we get talking to each other the tears and the hatred just boil out.”
Estabrooks will never be brought to justice for most of his crimes. In the late 1990’s, he was convicted on four charges of indecent assault, and sentenced to six years in jail. He died of cancer shortly after his release in 2005, before the extent of his crimes were revealed.
But there are still many questions left about how the abuse was allowed to continue for so long.
The 16×9 investigation revealed Estabrooks confessed to molesting two boys in 1975, but instead of being charged, he was quietly shuffled into a different city job, where he continued to molest boys and young men for several more years.
“Today, the Estabrooks survivors are taking control of their lives,” says McKiggan. “They are demanding answers and accountability from the institutions and employers that allowed Estabrooks to destroy so many young lives.”
Even decades later, Hayes still has nightmares.
“It’s 2:00 in the morning and I think I hear his voice or you hear him holler at you, and you hear this noise that wakes you up and the first thing you think of is him and your heart is racing. You think he’s after you.”