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Jack Whalen goes home without a commitment to end the statute of limitations on abuse claims

Vaseline 1 month ago

Jack Whalen had the honor this week of sitting in the public gallery of the House of Representatives and hearing elected officials refer to him as a hero for children who have been abused.

Unfortunately for his case, all those elected officials were on the wrong side of the floor.

Whalen, who estimates he spent more than 700 days in solitary confinement at the Whitbourne Boys’ Home as a teenager, has the full support of every non-Liberal MHA in his quest to have the province lift the statute of limitations on all forms of child custody . abuse when it comes to civil claims.

That change would mean Whalen could continue his case against the government and receive compensation for his treatment.

As it stands now, the deadlines have long since passed.

“It’s frustrating,” he said Wednesday after a session of the Legislature. “What are we waiting for? Everyone has done it, so why not us?”

During a budget estimates meeting on Monday, NDP MHA Lela Evans asked the Department of Justice if they had taken steps to amend the Limitations Act.

“I can confirm that preliminary work has been done to investigate this matter,” Deputy Minister Denise Woodrow said.

What exactly that work is, and whether it could lead to changes, remains to be seen.

Matter that will come before the court in October

Whalen has been undergoing cancer treatments at his Ontario home since the fall. He put it on hold this week to be in St. John’s for the discovery portion of his lawsuit against the provincial government.

He has a two-week trial in October, when his lawyer – and daughter – Brittany Whalen will try to declare the province’s Limitation Act unconstitutional.

It’s an uphill battle, but it could be Whalen’s only recourse if the government won’t change legislation in the House of Representatives.

Jack Whalen built a replica of the solitary confinement cell he was in from 1973 to 1977 at the Whitbourne Boys' Home.Jack Whalen built a replica of the solitary confinement cell he was in from 1973 to 1977 at the Whitbourne Boys' Home.

Jack Whalen built a replica of the solitary confinement cell he was in from 1973 to 1977 at the Whitbourne Boys’ Home.

Jack Whalen built a replica of the solitary confinement cell he was held in from 1973 to 1977 at the Whitbourne Boys’ Home. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Whalen said his time at Whitbourne was divided between running away and being thrown into solitary. Those experiences shaped his life: He went to sixth grade and came out with a sixth grade. He found it difficult to trust authority figures and always feared that his own children would be taken from him.

He said he’s now trying to use those experiences to get him through these tough times.

“I have an attitude that I had when I was a kid. And that was never give up. If you were running away, you would want to turn yourself in because you were cold and hungry. And I never did that. It doesn’t matter if it took me two days to get home, how cold it was. It would be worth it in the end. And that’s how I think about it at some point, and it will be worth it.

Changes can have ripple effects

Whalen’s case is not the only one that would be affected by a change in the law. There is at least one other case pending in the province’s courts in which a complainant was abused while in the province’s care and cannot claim damages because the statute of limitations has expired.

In that case, the man’s sister was able to sue on the grounds that she was sexually abused, and the province does not have a similar deadline for sexual abuse victims. That was reversed in the 1990s after the Hughes investigation into the abuse at Mount Cashel.

Whalen wrote messages on the inside of the cell and made 730 check marks on the far wall.  Whalen wrote messages on the inside of the cell and made 730 check marks on the far wall.

Whalen wrote messages on the inside of the cell and made 730 check marks on the far wall.

Whalen wrote messages on the inside of the cell and made 730 check marks on the far wall, one for each day he estimates he spent in solitary confinement. (Christian Patry/CBC)

New Brunswick is the only other province in Canada with a statute of limitations for civil claims related to child physical abuse.

The issue has been raised more than thirty times in the House of Representatives, with the full support of all PC, NDP and independent MHAs. But it all means nothing if the government doesn’t want to move forward with it.

Attorney General John Hogan has said he cannot comment on the case because it is before the courts. However, several MHAs have urged the minister to take the matter out of court and settle it in the House of Representatives.

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