Lawsuits allege years of sexual, physical abuse against Indigenous girls in B.C. foster homes

Click to play video: 'Six women file civil lawsuits claiming they were sexually assaulted while under government care' Six women file civil lawsuits claiming they were sexually assaulted while under government care
The women claim not only were they abused in horrendous ways, nothing was done when they told social workers. Jill Bennett reports. And a warning, some of the details are very disturbing. – Jan 31, 2020

WARNING: This story contains details of sexual and physical abuse that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.

The abuse allegedly began in 1974 at the hands of her foster dad in a Nanaimo, B.C. group home. She was 11 years old.

The allegations range from getting beaten with an electrical cord to inappropriate pictures to rape and bestiality. Sometimes, she says, she was sexually assaulted up to four times a week.

Four years later, when she told her social worker at the Ministry of Children and Family Development that her foster dad was raping her, the worker blamed her instead. She focused on the now-15-year-old Aboriginal girl’s alcohol and marijuana use, and recommended she “get some birth control information.”

These are among the claims made in a lawsuit against the ministry, one of six filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Jan. 21.

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The suits all involve allegations of abuse that took place in various foster homes overseen by the ministry across B.C. during the 1970s and 1980s. All of them also allege that ministry social workers failed to act when informed of the allegations, allowing the abuse to continue for years.

None of the plaintiffs, who were all Indigenous girls placed into care when they were young, are being named to protect their privacy.

In another lawsuit, the plaintiff — who was moved into a foster home in Vernon, B.C. when she was seven years old — alleges she began experiencing years of sexual abuse at the hands of her foster father in 1972, when she was 12 or 13 years old.

She claims when she told a social worker about the abuse, nothing was done to remove her from the house. Instead, the worker made a note to talk to the girl again after the weekend, during which time she was raped again.

The girl was finally removed from the home a week after the girl reported the abuse.

Click to play video: 'Civil lawsuit brings new allegations against former Kelowna social worker' Civil lawsuit brings new allegations against former Kelowna social worker
Civil lawsuit brings new allegations against former Kelowna social worker – Dec 29, 2019

Yet another lawsuit details the allegations of another girl moved into foster care in 1969, when she was moved into a Duncan foster home as a five-year-old.

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Beyond the sexual abuse and physical abuse she claims she experienced almost immediately, the girl’s foster mother at one point put the girl into a bathtub and used a nail brush to allegedly “erase the Indian” from her, the lawsuit claims.

Despite a visiting social worker noting concerns about the children’s care, the lawsuit claims the girl still wasn’t removed from the home until the foster mother requested the ministry do so because her husband was in the hospital.

The girl alleges she then faced further sexual and physical abuse in a different foster home in Chemainus until 1980, when the girl ran away from the home after repeated alleged failures to remove her.

All the plaintiffs allege the years of abuse have affected their overall mental health and stability, leading to suicide attempts, addiction and failed relationships.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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Janelle O’Connor, the lawyer for all six of the plaintiffs, explains the BC Crown Proceedings Act prevents the plaintiffs from bringing claims against the ministry for events that took place prior to Aug. 1, 1974.

But she explained the plaintiffs are coming forward now due to the wave of similar examples of women speaking up due to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

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“The allegations are that the ministry was negligent, that they knew or ought to have known by following the standards of care of the day that the abuse was taking place, and that they should have removed these young Aboriginal girls from the situation at that time,” she said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Children and Family Development said they have not yet been served the lawsuits, so cannot comment on the claims.

“We can say that we are committed to lasting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” the ministry said in part.

“Currently, together with Indigenous communities and partners, this government is transforming the child welfare system. By focusing on prevention, collaboration and jurisdiction, we’re shifting our approach on all levels — from taking children into care to working to keep them safe within their families and connected to their cultures.”

The ministry added it will file its responses to the claims in court once they are served with the lawsuit.

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