A young British Columbian man claims that Joseph Burke — a former Christian brother once convicted of abusing boys in a Newfoundland orphanage in the early 1970s — was repeatedly sexually abused from 2007 to 2009.
The man, known in court documents as John B. Doe, says Burke was his teacher at Vancouver College, a private K-12 school run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers.
According to Doe’s sworn testimony, he survived several assaults in the 8th and 9th grades, including instances of being forced to masturbate. All of the incidents happened in Burke’s classroom, Doe says.
“I have struggled with the consequences of this abuse my entire adult life,” Dow wrote. “While I am determined not to let these events define who I am and how I live, my reality is that these events have taken a toll on my mental health. [and] affected my ability to learn, study and work.”
Burke has not responded to the allegations outlined in the court documents, which are part of a proposed class action lawsuit against multiple parties, including Burke himself.
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The lawsuit is directed against Vancouver College, St. Thomas More College in Burnaby, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver and several Christian brothers who were moved from the infamous Mount Cashel Orphanage to St. John’s, the Netherlands, in the 1970s.
The lawsuit alleges that the archbishop and schools must have known that six Christian brothers were accused and in some cases confessed to assaulting boys in St. John’s before they were sent to the Vancouver area.
When the Mount Cashel scandal broke in 1989, all the men involved in the abuse scandal were teaching at Vancouver College or St. Thomas More College. Among them were Joseph Burke, Edward English, Edward French, Douglas Kenny, David Burton and Kevin Short.
All six were convicted of historic crimes on Mount Cashel.
However, Burke is different in that his indecent assault convictions were ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1996 due to inconsistencies in witness testimony.
The physical assault conviction remained, but Burke was vacated outright by a judge in Newfoundland and Labrador after his other convictions were overturned.
“It is clearly in the public interest for a man of his stature to return to the teaching profession,” wrote James Gash, former Chief Justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, in his sentencing decision.
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The full release meant that the crime remained on Burke’s criminal record for only one year. Some time after that, he was again hired by Vancouver College.
John B. Doe wants to know how this was possible.
“I am currently speaking to hold accountable for the harm done to me as a child,” Dow wrote in his affidavit.
“In particular, I want to understand how Joe Burke was allowed to return to a teaching position at Vancouver College after he was convicted of a felony for his actions at Mount Cashel.”
Burke resigned amid an investigation in 2013.
Documents obtained by CBC News show that Burke was suspended by Vancouver College in 2013, nearly 40 years after the Mount Cashel allegations first surfaced.
He was accused of detaining 8th grade students after school for detention and ordering them to kneel on the floor with their hands up for three or four minutes at a time.
He retired shortly after he was suspended. Ultimately, his teaching license was revoked for non-payment of dues.
The alleged violence had profound consequences
CBC News examined five affidavits signed by men who claim they were abused at two British Columbia schools between 1976 and 2009. They outline allegations of sexual and physical assaults by teachers at the school.
One man described an atmosphere in which abuse of boys was tolerated and expected among the male staff transferred from Mount Cashel.
Burke was a teacher and football coach when the man attended school from 1985 to 1987. He said that Burke often beat him – beat him on his bare buttocks, and sometimes caressed him – and told him that his mother approved of this kind of punishment.
“I accused her of treating me,” he wrote in a sworn letter. “I felt betrayed and insecure and I lost confidence in her.”
A statement posted on the Vancouver College website states: “The safety and well-being of our students is our number one priority. We take this responsibility and the trust placed in us very seriously.
“We have a complete set of policies, protocols, processes, and review procedures in place to make our school a safe environment for students, faculty, and the entire Vancouver College community.”
Key days for a proposed class action lawsuit
At one point, the lawsuit also cited the Archdiocese of Saint John, which was held accountable in 2021 for the Mount Cashel violence, arguing that a church in Newfoundland should also be held responsible for sending violators to British Columbia.
However, that part of the lawsuit has been put on hold as the Archdiocese of St. John is working through bankruptcy proceedings and is selling church property to pay back the victims of Mount Cashel.
The proposed class action will begin a certification hearing on Monday that will last seven days. The judge will then decide whether the class action can continue or whether the charges should be split into separate claims.
Vancouver College is fighting for the latter.
“The procedural framework used for class actions is not the preferred process for adjudicating claims,” the school said in a statement on its website.
“Vancouver College is committed to responding to complaints individually and more effectively.”
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