Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s v. John Doe (G.E.B. #25), et al.

(Newfoundland & Labrador) (Civil) (By Leave)


Torts — Vicarious liability — Former students of orphanage claiming damages for sexual abuse against both religious order who operated orphanage and archdiocese where orphanage was located — Court of Appeal holding archdiocese vicariously liable — Where an entity plays a limited role in the establishment, funding and general support of an institution, but is not an employer and has no control over its day to day operations, and does nothing to materially enhance the risk undertaken, is it appropriate that it be deemed to be vicariously liable for the institution?


Case summaries are prepared by the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada (Law Branch). Please note that summaries are not provided to the Judges of the Court. They are placed on the Court file and website for information purposes only.

In a suit filed in 1999, the respondents, who suffered sexual abuse while they were boys living at Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John’s during the 1950s, claimed against the applicant, the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s (the “Archdiocese”) and the Christian Brothers Institute Inc. (the “Brothers”) for damages. The respondents’ evidence implicated five Brothers. The Brothers had been in Newfoundland since 1875 for the purpose of educating Roman Catholic boys and had control over the day to day activities at Mount Cashel. The Brothers did not participate in the trial as bankruptcy proceedings had resulted in liquidation of their assets.

The trial judge held that the Archdiocese could not be found vicariously liable for the tortious conduct of the Brothers. The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge made errors of law on this point. It conducted its own assessment of the evidence and concluded both that the relationship between the Archdiocese and the Brothers was sufficiently close to justify imposing vicarious liability on the Archdiocese and that the Brothers’ sexual assaults of the respondents were sufficiently connected to their assigned task of caring for them for the assaults to be regarded as a materialization of the risks created by the Archdiocese. It therefore held that the Archdiocese was vicariously liable for the Brothers’ abuse of the respondents.

Lower Court Rulings

March 16, 2018
Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, General Division

199901T3223; 199901T3224, 199901T3231; 19901T3241, 2018 NLSC 60
Respondents’ claims for damages against the applicant dismissed; applicant not vicariously liable for acts of abuse committed.
July 28, 2020
Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador

201801H0028; 201801H0045, 2020 NLCA 27
Appeal allowed; applicant vicariously liable for sexual abuse of the respondents.