Warning: This story contains disturbing content
The Justice department isn’t commenting on a lawsuit filed against the province Wednesday related to a high profile child abuse case.
A spokesman said because it’s before the courts, the department won’t comment at this time, a spokesman said Thursday.
The provincial government is being sued for negligence over a horrific case of child abuse that surfaced nine years ago and became the subject of a criminal conviction and a shocking report by the province’s child and youth advocate, The Telegram has learned.
Three statements of claim — representing two Jane Does and a John Doe — were filed late Wednesday in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Lawyer Geoff Budden said the abuse that the siblings — now 21, 20 and 19 — suffered as children at the hands of their mother was depraved.
In the statement of claim, all three — who had been taken from the woman in 1995, but returned to her custody a couple of years later — contend the abuse amounted to torture, and government officials failed in their child protection duties and ought to have known their negligence exposed the children to serious harm.
It wasn’t until 2004 that they, and three younger siblings, were finally taken from the mother and put in foster care for good.
The involvement of social services, child protection and other government officials in the then Clarke’s Beach family’s situation over the years was well documented in the court case, media coverage and the advocate’s report. Yet the mental and physical abuse of the children went undetected, despite the support services lavished on the mother.
“Our view is there are individuals here who made mistakes. Obviously nobody knew this woman was actively abusing them the second time she had them,” Budden told The Telegram Wednesday after the statement of claim was filed.
“But if the employees had been diligent, this would not have happened like it happened, certainly not for as long as it happened.”
Budden, who has fought cases involving Mount Cashel abuse victims dating back to the 1950s, noted this case happened when the child protective system, which returned the children to their mother in 1997, should have been advanced enough in its diligence to recognize the evidence of what was going on.
“This is not 50 years ago. These kids weren’t born when the Hughes Inquiry (which in 1989 began delving into child abuse and neglect) was on,” Budden said.
Instead, the statements of claim notes, officials even presented the mother as a positive example at a National Child Protection Symposium in 2000.
Budden said the three siblings are a pleasure to represent as survivors of the ordeal and for their determination to go on with their lives, though the legacy of the suffering remains with them.
“But they have lost a lot. They have lost their childhoods,” he said.
One sibling now lives in St. John’s and the other two in rural communities on the Avalon Peninsula.
The statements of claim focus on abuse they received between 1997 and 2004. The siblings say that on multiple occasions they were punched, slapped, kicked, struck with a broom handle and were deprived of heat, shelter, food, water and medical treatment.
The sisters say abuse they suffered as girls include being thrown against a wall, whipped, choked, bound at the hands/feet with tape, and blindfolded with tape locked in her bedroom for extended periods of time without food, drink, or the use of a toilet, forced to sit, stand and lay in their own urine and feces, forced to wear adult diapers while being locked in their room and being forced to stand through the night with their hands above their head.
One of the sisters also reported being forced to lick her urine off the floor.
They all say they were forced to witness the torture of siblings. But the brother also reported he was forced to be complicit in the torture and confinement of his siblings.
The siblings are seeking damages of an as yet unspecified amount, as well as legal costs.
In 2005, the woman was sentenced in Supreme Court to several years’ federal time. The criminal court case centred on the most shocking abuse — involving the two daughters, or the Jane Does in the lawsuit.
During media coverage of the case, it was revealed social services had supplied some $200,000 in services over and above social assistance to the woman between 1996 and 2004.
The department provided her with a battery of counselling services and a 40-hour-a-week respite worker, and even supplied the alarm she put on the bedroom door, behind which she confined her two daughters by taping their hands, shoulders and legs and sometimes their mouths.
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate began a lengthy investigation in 2005.
“For 13 years, these children suffered in their home while many professionals encountered them numerous times. There were many opportunities missed in identifying what was really taking place in that house. These children were sadly failed by the system — a system that turned a blind eye,” child and youth advocate Carol Chafe wrote in her 2012 report about the case.
Chafe’s office examined 13 years in the life of the family, during which children were removed from the woman’s care three times. Three children from a first relationship went into the custody of their father in 1993 and never returned to her.
A second relationship had resulted in more children. The three oldest of those kids — born in 1992, ’93 and ’94 — are the ones involved in the lawsuit against government. And the woman had three more boys between the late 1990s and 2004 when all six were removed from her care.
“Based on the extensive interventions and services provided to this family, the oppressive living conditions of the six children (from the second relationship) should have been preempted well before their removal in 2004,” Chafe’s report stated.
“Three of these children … had been taken into care for the first time in 1995 and returned to their mother in 1997. Sadly though, when extra vigilance, reviews and analysis should have happened over the next several years, file documentation does not mirror the safeguards that were reportedly in place.”
Chafe’s report is loaded with incidents and clues to the horrific situation the children found themselves in over the years, especially the two girls.
“I feel that this child has exhibited many of the findings of child neglect and abuse, and I feel strongly that if she goes back in this home that she probably will not survive, and I think that if we left her in this natural home that she would have died after two or three months,” one Janeway doctor wrote in 1996 about one of the girls to the family doctor, police and the social worker on the case, recommending the three children stay in foster care.
Those three children are the adult Jane Does and John Doe.
Back in 1996 the doctor described the one girl’s situation as “one of the most severe forms of child abuse that I have seen in my 22 years at the Janeway.”
But despite this doctor’s plea not to send the children back to their mother, all three were returned home at varying intervals during 1997.
When they were taken from the mother in 1995, according to the statement of claim, one of the Jane Does was “battered, malnourished and withdrawn; medical examination revealed unexplained fractures of the ribs, right tibia and femur and bruises on the legs and right buttock.”
A medical exam of John Doe at the time revealed bruising on his shins and right forearm.