Lawyer calls for public inquiry into suspected Saint John child molester

Watch: Saint John investigators announced this morning that the number of suspected victims Kenneth Estabrooks sexually abused has climbed to 263 and they expect that number to increase. Jennifer Tryon reports.

A lawyer involved in a class action suit against a suspected serial child molester wants a public inquiry into the case.

“This particular circumstance cries out for a public inquiry,” said John McKiggan, a Halifax lawyer who has represented childhood abuse victims for more than two decades. “The city cannot call one, but province certainly has the ability.”

New Brunswick police officer Sgt. Kenneth Estabrooks is suspected of sexually abusing at least 260 children over the course of nearly three decades, dating back to the 1950s.

In 1999, Estabrooks was convicted of indecent assault and sentenced to six years in prison. He died of cancer in 2005.

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Read more: Timeline – A city’s shame

During the trial, a former police detective testified that in 1975, two kids complained Estabrooks had molested them.

That detective said Estabrooks confessed to these accusations—but instead of being charged, he was quietly moved to a city works job, the records show.

“Why was Estabrooks protected?” McKiggan asked in a telephone interview Monday. “Why was he allowed to move to a new job with the city rather than being criminally charged or fired? There’s a whole lot of questions here that need to be answered.”

The alleged victim who first contacted McKiggan was angry Estabrooks would never be held accountable for his alleged actions, the lawyer said.

“But he feels, and I agree with him, that there are others who need to be held accountable for what happened and for allowing it to go on,” he said.

That alleged victim, now the representative plaintiff in the class action, has yet to speak publicly and won’t be named before the pleadings are filed, McKiggan said.

The lawyer said he and his colleagues are “putting the finishing touches on [the pleadings] as we speak,” and he expects to file it shortly.
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The claim alleges vicarious liability for the police force and the city – a legal concept in which an employer is held responsible for acts of its employees – and direct liability by the police force and the city.

“In other words, that police force and city knew what Estabrooks was doing and failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent him from sexually abusing children,” McKiggan explained.

Read more: A city’s shame: Saint John investigation uncovering long held secrets

There will not be a specific dollar amount named in the lawsuit, McKiggan said, but with hundreds of alleged victims, he said he thinks it will climb high.

“Given the amount of people they believe were assaulted by Estabrooks, this lawsuit is going to involve millions of dollars.”

McKiggan has represented hundreds of abuse survivors in past cases.

He won compensation for some victims of notorious pedophile Karl Toft, who in 1992 received a 13-year sentence for sexually assaulting 18 boys when he worked at a youth training centre in New Brunswick.

“You’d think after all that time I’d be calloused, accustomed to the long-term effects of childhood abuse,” he said. “But it never ceases to shock you … when you see them later in life and many of them have had terrible struggles with substance abuse or alcohol abuse, are living on the edges of society, have become very marginalized.”

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