General Synod welcomes settlement as primate consults with Indigenous leaders to make apology
An Ontario court has approved a multimillion dollar settlement in the class-action lawsuit against Ralph Rowe, a former Anglican priest and Scout leader convicted of 75 sexual crimes against children in northern Ontario and Manitoba.
Justice Bonnie Warkentin said at an Oct. 27 hearing that she would sign orders that day approving the settlement, which totals $13.25 million and will provide up to $350,000 in compensation for each class member abused by Rowe. The settlement also requires the Anglican Church of Canada and Scouts Canada to formally apologize.
“This is a historic day and I am grateful that the courts can offer the opportunity we have to provide some sort of resolution here,” Warkentin said.
The hearing at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice sought to determine whether the proposed settlement was “fair, reasonable and in the best interests” of individuals seeking compensation for sexual abuse committed by Rowe. The abuse took place between 1975 and 1987 within the geographic boundaries of the former Anglican diocese of Keewatin—an area split since 2014 between the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh and the diocese of Rupert’s Land.
Lawyer Jonathan Ptak, a partner at the firm Koskie Minsky LLP which represents the class members, said that there had been no objections to the proposed settlement.
Alvin McKay—a member of Kitchenuhmaykoosib-Inninuwug First Nation who had been sexually assaulted by Rowe at least three times over a two-year period, starting when McKay was five—was also present at the hearing as representative plaintiff in the lawsuit. In an affidavit, McKay said a formal apology was “very important to the victims of Ralph Rowe, but also to the greater communities where we live.”
‘A huge impact on my life’
The CBC reported McKay spoke to media after approval of the settlement. “I’m just glad it’s over,” McKay said. “The outcome of this has … played a huge impact on my life, so I hope everything goes well for everybody else. I think we’ll be OK.”
An official statement by the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada welcomed the settlement. It noted that in 2017, then General Secretary Michael Thompson said then primate Fred Hiltz was committed to apologizing for abuse committed by Rowe while the latter was employed by the Anglican Church.
“The Church paused its steps towards an apology to avoid commenting on a matter before the courts and has been grateful for the feedback gained from survivors, their Elders and their communities throughout this process about the words and commitments that would be most meaningful to them,” the statement said.
“With the approval of the settlement, it will be possible for Primate Linda Nicholls to conclude her consultation with Indigenous leaders and to make an informed, engaged and too long delayed apology on behalf of the whole Church. We are currently consulting with Indigenous leaders in order to appropriately deliver that apology. We continue to pray for the healing of those who have suffered harm.”
The settlement requires the Anglican church to meet with representatives of the affected communities to craft an apology meaningful to survivors and affected communities.
First Nations leaders and mental health professionals, as detailed in the documentary film Survivors Rowe, believe Rowe abused as many as 500 children in northern Indigenous communities. The convicted pedophile has served less than five years in prison for his crimes—owing to a plea bargain with the Crown after a 1994 conviction for 39 sexual crimes. The plea bargain prevented Rowe from being sentenced to more prison time for similar convictions. Further convictions ensued in 2005 and 2009.
Karen Webb, chancellor of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land and one of the four members of the diocese of Keewatin legal entity, said the diocese had no plans to appeal the court’s decision, which she called “a good settlement” and “a step forward.”
“I hope it achieves some of what it’s meant to achieve, which is not just the compensation, but some form of healing,” Webb said.
Deputy Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, where Rowe committed his abuse, also welcomed the settlement.
“Today represents a tremendous achievement for these Survivors and everyone who has worked so hard seeking validation for what they have endured,” Achneepineksum said in a statement. “We acknowledge the courage and resiliency of these brave individuals who demonstrated the strength to pursue their rightful claims through a very long and difficult legal process.”
The deputy chief called approval of the settlement “a plateau for this process of validation and acknowledgement of the horrific abuses that were inflicted on innocent children and carried with them into adulthood.”
She added, “We stand with the Survivors in their accepting of this historic agreement.”
Achneepineksum thanked survivors, their families, supporters and legal counsel.
“We cannot undo the past, but we can continue to move forward in a good way to support all those who have suffered and continue to suffer,” she said. “May the Creator guide us, the Anglican Church and Boy Scouts of Canada as we move forward together.”
Correction: The settlement provides up to $350,000 in compensation for each class member abused by Rowe. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.