Warning: This story deals with sensitive subject matter.
The Superior Court of Quebec has authorized a class-action lawsuit against a Catholic Church missionary congregation for sexual abuse committed on more than 200 victims, many of whom were children, from 1940 onwards.
The lawsuit request was first filed in 2018 regarding sexual assaults allegedly committed in Basse-Côte-Nord (Lower North Shore), Que., by Father Alexis Joveneau — who died over 25 years ago — and other religious members of the congregation.
On Tuesday, the Superior Court authorized the suit following a hearing that took place on Nov. 1, which saw many of the victims from different communities attend by videoconference.
The case states that the Catholic group, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — founded by a French Catholic priest in the south of France in 1816 — was “very present” in many Innu, Atikamekw, Anishinaabe, Cree, Inuit and non-native communities of Quebec.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Noëlla Mark, who is now in her early 60s and lives in Unamen Shipu, a small Innu First Nations community in the province.
More than 200 alleged victims, both men and women, have since contacted the law firm representing the plaintiff to sign on to the lawsuit.
The suit states that the religious congregation is directly responsible for the sexual assaults committed by its members, adding that the congregation must have known that Father Alexis Joveneau and other priests sexually abused vulnerable people under their control.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs said Wednesday that more than 30 missionaries have been identified as suspected perpetrators.
The Superior Court’s judgement authorizing the class-action highlights five main priests in the case: Fathers Alexis Joveneau, Omer Provencher, Edmond Brouillard, Raynald Couture and Edouard Meilleur.
Lawyer Alain Arsenault said in 2018 that the abuse involved children aged eight to 10 years old, and that it went on for years.
Anyone who believes they are a victim of abuse by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation is asked to contact lawyers at Arsenault-Dufresne-Wee, the firm handling the case.
–with files from The Canadian Press