HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s premier says he’s not ready to call a public inquiry into long-standing allegations of physical and sexual abuse at a Halifax orphanage, despite the facility’s board saying it’s not opposed to one.
Darrell Dexter was reacting Monday to a statement issued by the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, saying the board was disturbed by the allegations being made against several former staff members.
The chairwoman of the board, Sylvia Parris, said if anybody associated with the home has abused children, they should face justice.
“To that end, we have no objection if the Nova Scotia government decides to hold a public inquiry into these serious allegations, so long as it does not impede or delay the prosecution of these serious criminal charges, or the disposition of the civil lawsuits filed against the Home,” Parris said in the statement.
Abuse allegations against staff at the home – now a short-term residential facility for children of all races – first surfaced more than a decade ago, but no charges were laid.
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Dexter said while his government isn’t ruling an inquiry in or out, it feels the legal process needs to run its course. In particular, Dexter said there are concerns over whether an inquiry would affect the integrity of the police investigation and the disposition of a class action suit.
“At this point we want to make sure that whatever additional response there is to the due process of law . . . that it is appropriate,” said Dexter.
The RCMP recently said they are investigating complaints of abuse against former staff members.
Earlier this year, 63 former residents applied for a class-action lawsuit against the home and the provincial government. A certification hearing was held in October.
More than 100 people are now a part of the bid for a class-action. A court ruling is expected next June.
The majority of the claims date back decades, almost to the home’s inception as an orphanage in 1921.
The affidavits in the court action have been the focus of a series of published reports that have prompted calls for a public inquiry.
On Monday, both opposition parties said that with the board of the home now speaking out, it was time for the province to call an immediate inquiry.
Liberal Kelly Regan said time is a critical element in ensuring the concerns of some former residents are publicly aired.
“Some of the people who have come forward may not be alive at the end of this civil process,” said Regan. “We think it’s incumbent on the government to move now.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said he doesn’t believe it’s right to make people wait years while the judicial process plays itself out.
“There are many examples where public inquiries have been held at the same time as the legal process unfolds,” said Baillie.
The home’s role has evolved over the years. It became a more modern residential centre in 1978, eventually expanding its services to promote the health and well-being of children and families within Nova Scotia’s black community in particular.
Executive director Veronica Marsman said the current facility follows rigorous standards on hiring and safety.
“We operate under a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of any kind,” she said in the statement. “Our focus will always be on providing a safe and supportive environment for the children and young people who turn to us for care and support.”