CORNER BROOK — Roman Catholic priest George Ansel Smith won’t be sentenced until later this winter, but the civil action being taken by his victims could begin even before that.
The wheels have been set in motion for lawsuits against Smith and corporate entities under the Catholic church after applications were filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in Corner Brook this week.
The applications were requests for some of the victims who were sexually abused by Smith to be permitted to use a ‘John Doe’ pseudonym in documents pertaining to the pending civil action. Four such applications were granted by Justice Alan Seaborn, who ordered the true name of the intended plaintiffs shall be obscured on any documentation before the Supreme Court.
Smith, 74, has pleaded guilty to 40 sex offences involving young boys. The incidents took place in several western Newfoundland communities and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada between 1969 and 1989.
A facts and sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 27-28.
In terms of any civil action that will be taken, the victims will be represented by Stack and Associates, a law firm based in St. John’s that has pursued legal action on behalf of sex abuse victims in other cases.
“We are now in a position to file statements of claim for these particular four clients under the John Doe pseudonym,” said Harry Mugford, who represented the firm in the four applications presented to Seaborn this week.
“We intend to get them expeditiously out to Corner Brook within the next couple of days, we think.”
A fifth victim has instructed the law firm not to pursue the John Doe alias and will have his name on court documents pertaining to his case against Smith and the church. There are at least three other clients for whom the firm is still investigating their cases with a view of possibly filing statements of claim on their behalf.
“Once the statements of claim have been issued by the Supreme Court, we tend to have them served immediately upon the defendants, at which time we would wait for their statements of defence,” said Mugford. “We may be in a position to do that before the sentencing hearing.”
Usually publication bans protect the identities of victims in sexual abuse cases. Even when there is no ban, most media outlets choose not to identify such victims.
Although there may be a publication ban in place for a criminal matter, it does not protect a client’s identity in a civil suit. That is why these applications were required before civil action is filed.
“As we are commencing civil actions, separate and apart from criminal proceedings, we need to get the endorsement of the Supreme Court with respect to our cases,” said Mugford.