HALIFAX - A Saskatchewan lawyer with ties to Amherst is about to launch a class-action lawsuit on behalf of victims of sexual and physical abuse at deaf schools in Halifax and Amherst.
Tony Merchant, whose great-grandfather was Amherst lawyer Charles Reynolds Smith, is in the process of collecting complaints from people alleging abuse at the two schools through the 1990s.
"These victims were perfect victims in that they could pretty much could not report their abusers because they could not communicate," said Merchant, who is based in Regina.
"There was no way for them to get protection. Because of that, there was a lot of wrongdoing."
Among those participating in the suit are 61-year-old Walter Wile of Calgary and Myles Murphy, 59, of St. John's, N.L. Wile claims he was physically and sexually abused during the nine years he spent at the residential deaf schools in Amherst and Haliax in the 1950s and 1960s. Murphy claims he was psychologically and physically abused by employees and students at the Amherst school in the early 1960s.
Merchant alleges students were abused not only by staff, but by fellow students. The schools, he said, were co-ed and it was possible that new students, some as young as 12, could have been abused by older students, who could have been 18 or 19.
The students, many of whom arrived from throughout the Atlantic region, did not know how to communicate what was happening and had to endure abuse without having anyone to turn to for help.
"It would be like many of us trying to talk about sexual misconduct in Spanish or German. We couldn't do it because we don't understand the language," said Merchant. "That made these victims all the more vulnerable."
The victims were unable to call home because there was no such thing as the direct dial system for the hearing impaired. Merchant said they couldn't drop a quarter in a payphone and call for help.
"In some these young people went home for Christmas, but there were some who didn't go home for a couple of years. They were even more cut off because they couldn't get help," said Merchant.
Merchant said 15 people have joined the class-action suit in Nova Scotia and there are 300 people participating in similar suits across the country. Merchant launched the first of several claims against 12 Canadian schools for the deaf in Edmonton in 2008. He has also filed class-action suits in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and the province has yet to file a defence.
Merchant said the province has yet to be served as he is waiting to see whether similar cases in other provinces are certified. Court must approve a class-action case before it can proceed.
Merchant expects to serve the province with the action in about six weeks.
The Amherst school closed in 1995 when it was merged in Halifax with the school for the visually impaired.