The organization that hosts Edmonton’s annual K-Days festival says it plans to make changes to a legal document suggesting a woman is to blame for her own sexual assault at the fair a decade ago.
On Thursday, a member of Northlands’ board of directors also said the board never even saw its own statement of defence in response to shocking allegations made in a lawsuit this summer.
According to the statement of claim, the woman went to K-Days (then called the Capital Ex) with a friend in July 2008 when she was 13 years old. They met a man selling tickets at a booth and agreed to meet him when his shift ended later that night. The lawsuit alleges the three drank vodka in a semi-truck in a staff area of the midway, before the girl passed out in the rear of the truck.
The statement of claim alleges she was then sexually assaulted while unconscious before being left semi-naked and without underwear in a ditch on Northlands property, only waking up as she was being treated for alcohol poisoning at the University of Alberta Hospital. The woman alleges hospital staff found evidence of sexual assault and referred her to a support facility for children who experience sexual abuse.
The statement of defence filed on Northlands’ behalf denies the incident happened, and suggests that if it did, the teen was negligent by not taking “reasonable care for her own safety,” “drinking excessive alcohol while underage” and “agreeing to party with one or more adult males who were not known to” her.
On Thursday afternoon, Northlands’ vice-president of corporate development suggested the organization was disturbed by the wording, and said the portion suggesting the alleged victim was negligent will be removed.
“We were absolutely horrified with the words that were put in the statement and the fact that they were attributed to Northlands because our corporate culture does not condone any sort of victim-blaming at all,” Lisa Holmes said.
Christy Morin, a member of Northlands’ board of directors, said “certain portions” of its statement of defence “are in no way an indication of our stance at Northlands on the issue.”
She said the board learned of the looming lawsuit in March.
“Our insurance company then engaged a team of lawyers to act on their behalf,” Morin said on Thursday. “The statement of defence, issued by the insurance company and that has been quoted in the media, was done without our review.”
The lawsuit, seeking $100,000 in damages, also names North American Midway Company, and the estate of the alleged assailant, who died in 2016. No criminal charges were ever laid, and none of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.
The executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton issued a statement in response to Northlands announcing it would make changes to its statement of defence.
“We are pleased with Northlands’ decision to retract their statement of defence,” Mary Jane James said in a statement emailed to Global News. “Victim-blaming language, such as that used in the document, contributes to the normalization and trivialization of sexual violence in our society.
“We hope that now, Northlands will choose to move forward with a defence argument that ensures fair process and that does not attack, minimize or blame the victim for the alleged sexual assault.”
Morin said her board first saw the statement of defence on Wednesday in a news report. She added that on the night of the alleged assault, Northlands immediately asked paramedics and police to respond.
The woman who filed the lawsuit alleges the episode brought on psychological trauma that she requires ongoing treatment for. The lawsuit says the $100,000 in damages she is seeking is to pay for, among other things, past and future treatment and therapy and loss of income resulting from the alleged incident.
This story does not include the name of the plaintiff as Global News does not disclose the names of people who say they have been sexually assaulted except in rare circumstances such as the victim asking to be publicly identified.