Sexual Abuse Charges Against Former Priest Albert LeBlanc Raise Interesting Legal Issues
John McKigganAugust 30, 2011 1:02 PM
Albert LeBlanc a former Roman Catholic priest who was employed by the Catholic Diocese of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is charged with 50 criminal counts of indecent assault and gross indecency that are alleged to have happened between 1964 and 1985.
Some of the charges arise during the time frame LeBlanc was a priest in the Yarmouth Diocese. However after he resigned as a priest, LeBlanc went on to be employed at Family and Children’s Services in Yarmouth as a case worker. In 1975 he went on to work for the province as a probation officer.
Civil Liability of Former Employers?
LeBlanc's varied career raises interesting legal questions about potential liability (legal responsibility) to his victims.
Liability of the Catholic Church
It is clear that based on the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Doe v. Bennett the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yarmouth would be "vicariously liable" to LeBlanc's victims that he met and abused while he was a priest.
But what if he met and established a relationship with a victim while he was a priest and then abused them after he left the priesthood? In Bennett, the Supreme Court said:
“The relationship between the bishop and the priest in the Diocese is not only spiritual but temporal. First, the Bishop provided Bennett with the opportunity to abuse his power.
Second, Bennett’s wrongful acts were strongly related to the psychological intimacy inherent in his role as priest.
Third, the Bishop conferred an enormous degree of power on Bennett relative to his victims”
Is it possible this reasoning could be used to extend legal liability to the Church for acts of abuse by former priests who used their authority as priests to create the opportunity to abuse their victims at a later date?
Liability of Family and Children’s Services
In this situation the potential defendant would be either the municipality or the province of Nova Scotia (whichever level of government employed LeBlanc).
When an employer will be held responsible for acts of sexual abuse by an employee was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada in a case called Bazley v. Curry. The Court stated the specific facts of each case will determine if liability should lie with an employer.
The Court listed five factors to consider in determining whether an employer should be held vicariously liable for sexual abse by emloyees:
1. The opportunity that the enterprise afforded the employee to abuse his power;
2. The extent to which the wrongful act may have furthered the employer's aims;
3. The extent to which the wrongful act was related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer’s enterprise;
4. The extent of power conferred on the employee in relation to the victim; and
5. The vulnerability of potential victims to wrongful exercise of the employee’s power
If it turns out there is evidence that LeBlanc's employers knew or ought to have known that LeBlanc was sexualy abusing children under his care, then Family and Children’s Services would likely be held to be directly liable for it's own negligence.
Liability of Probation Services
Again, if there is evidence LeBlanc's employer knew or ought to have known what was going on, the employer could be held directly liable.
The issue of vicarious liability is also fairly clear. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has confirmed in two cases BMG v Nova Scotia (Attorney General) and LMM v Nova Scotia (Attorney General) that the province of Nova Scotia was vicariously liable for sexual abuse committed by notorious sex offender Cesar Lalo while he was a probation officer.
Fallout for Years to Come
If LeBlanc is convicted it is clear that his actions will have impacted many lives. The survivors of his sexual assaults will continue to deal with the effects of the abuse.
The legal ramifications on the Yarmouth Diocese, Family and Children's Services and the Province of Nova Scotia are yet to be determined.