Decisions May Affect Residential Schools Suits: Employers Can Be Held Liable for Abusive Actions of Workers

Article excerpt

Two Supreme Court of Canada rulings on vicarious liability have added yet another turn to the legal labyrinth surrounding the residential schools issue.

An employer can he held vicariously liable for the actions of an employee, and may be obliged to pay damages as a result, even when the employer did nothing wrong.

In one of the cases on which the court ruling was based, the Children's Foundation of Vancouver was found vicariously liable and will have to pay damages for sexual abuse committed by one of its employees. In the other case, the court did not hold a Vernon boys and girls club vicariously liable for sexual abuse, based in part on a finding that the club provided a recreational rather than a residential facility.

While the two cases did not involve residential schools, the court rulings could have a great bearing on numerous claims by Native people who suffered sexual and other abuse at residential schools sponsored by Ottawa and run by several churches.

The stakes are high. With more than 3,000 outstanding lawsuits filed by former students against Ottawa and the churches that ran the schools, there has been some media speculation that the final cost to the federal government could be as high as $2 billion.

One of the many unknowns is how much of the cost will be borne by the churches. …