Frères du Sacré-Coeur: Court approves $60 million settlement for victims

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The Quebec Superior Court has greenlit an agreement made by the Frères du Sacré-Coeur to pay $60 million in compensation to dozens of victims of sexual abuse.

In a decision issued Thursday by Judge Christian Immer, the court approved the settlement agreement “in its entirety” and says it is “reasonable, fair, just and adequate, and in the best interests of the class members.”

The Frères du Sacré-Coeur were the subject of two class actions for sexual abuse.

Following this “historic” decision, the claims period for the victims can now begin, according to one of the lawyers representing the victims, Robert Kugler.

“I couldn't be prouder or happier with the outcome of this case. It is not often that one can use the word ‘historic.’ [It’s] a case that allows victims to obtain important justice and to begin to heal, to be freed from a burden they have carried for a very long time. We are extremely grateful to the representatives of the group," Kugler said Thursday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The out-of-court settlement was reached at the end of June, after a negotiation process chaired by retired judge Claudette Picard.

In a statement at the time, the leadership of the Frères du Sacré-Coeur had apologized “for the abuse allegedly caused by religious educators” and asked the victims for forgiveness.

The claims can apply to any victim of sexual assault by a religious member of the Frères du Sacré-Coeur order across Quebec, explained Kugler.

“We have been able to contact over 250 people who have been victims, by at least 93 different members of the Frères du Sacré-Coeur. And all of these victims will be entitled to benefit from the settlement," said Kugler.

A notice will be published over the next ten days — including in several newspapers — informing victims that they have a 10-month period to submit a claim.

Under the settlement, a "confidential" claims process is established by the victims' lawyers, Kugler said.

Each victim will have to fill out a claim form, which "will be sent to us, the claimants' lawyers only," he continued. “The form will be given to a referee — a retired judge chosen by the victims' lawyers "based on their legal skills, but also on their human qualities.”

“The referee will help the victim to go through the process […] The victim will have the opportunity to talk about what they suffered in their childhood, how they were affected. The arbitrator will listen to the victim, decide on their claim, and then place the victim in one of three categories of compensation — either basic, or the one or two categories which are for victims who have suffered more severe after-effects, who will earn a larger sum,” explained the lawyer.

The defendants and their lawyers will have no involvement in the claims process.

Since the Superior Court authorized the class actions in 2017 and 2019, more than 250 victims have come forward, and that number could increase further with the court's decision, Kugler said.

“This is excellent news, because victims understand that there is a way to access justice.”

The first class action was against Collège Mont-Sacré-Coeur, in Granby, Montérégie, which was run by the religious order from 1932 to 2008. The plaintiff was a man in his fifties, named “A,” who claims to have been systematically assaulted by Brother Claude Lebeau while he was a boarder at the college.

The second class action was filed by a fifty year old man named “F,” who claims to have been assaulted on several occasions by Brother Léon Maurice Tremblay. This action was brought on behalf of all victims of religious members of the Frères du Sacré-Coeur of Quebec.

The victims have until July 30, 2022 to submit a claim, followed by “a few months for the arbitrators to finalize their decisions for the categories once all the victims have been met,” said Kugler.

“We want the process to be completed quickly after July 30, because we really want to get the compensation out as soon as possible. It is a compensation that they have deserved for a very long time," he said.

Robert Kugler invites all victims to contact his law firm free of charge and on a confidential basis to learn the process and obtain justice.

--This report was first published in French by The Canadian Press on Sept. 2.

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