Years of abuse at Nunavut group home ignored, lawsuits allege

WARNING: This story discusses physical and sexual abuse of children.

On a dusty plot of land in the western Arctic community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut sits a somewhat out-of-place modern-looking building full of government offices.

Although Paul has lived in the remote community of 1,500 for his entire 50 years, he has never been inside.

“It’s the only building I haven’t set foot in,” he told CBC News. “I won’t.”

Decades ago, long before the shiny new government building, it was home to the Cambridge Bay group foster home that was at the center of a disturbing civil lawsuit between the home’s nine former residents and the governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The Attorney General of Canada.

Modern office building on the land.
The territorial government office is now located where the children once lived in a group foster home. (Getty Images)

Paul, who is not his real name, is one of eight plaintiffs who allege they were sexually assaulted and beaten for years while caring for the couple who ran the home in the 1970s and 1980s. The couple, Walter and Annie Pockiak, are now deceased. A separate plaintiff says she was later assaulted by a resident while another couple managed the home.

Together, they are suing the Northwest Territories government, which was responsible for running the home, and the federal government, which funded it, for $11 million in damages.

None of the charges have been proven in court.

The case was first filed in 2018 in Nunavut’s court or justice. The plaintiffs, two men and seven women, lived in the home at various times from 1975 to 1993.

Five years after the case was filed, they are still awaiting a resolution.

Complaints were ignored

Paul said he lived in the home for “about five or six years” around 1980 and was sexually and physically abused by the Seals.

CBC spoke to five plaintiffs for this story and is using the pseudonym Paul. That’s because a court order prohibits anyone from releasing the names of the plaintiffs, who were minors at the time of the alleged events.

Paul described how he was taken into foster care while walking outside after midnight. At the time, she said, her parents were working at the DEW Line site and had left the two children in the care of siblings.

“There was this car of a social worker, it was a van. [The social worker] put me in the back of one of the cars. I was about 11 or 12 years old.”

Children play hockey on the pond in front of the satellite dish.
Children play hockey off the North Warning System, formerly the DEW Line site, in Cambridge Bay. (Jane George/CBC)

Paul said he remembers many instances where he and other residents made disclosures of abuse to the RCMP and local social workers. She even remembers a police officer coming to the house and interviewing the children who were left there.

Paul was shocked to learn in 2023 that none of the Pookies had any criminal charges related to running the group home. Walter Pockiak was charged with assaulting a woman twice, but not just in the 1990s.

In court documents, two other plaintiffs say they went to the police, but “no action was taken … and the abuse continued.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Steven Cooper, said racism plays into the way young complainants are ignored.

“They didn’t believe the young indigenous protesters,” he said.

“If a non-Indigenous child had come forward with the type of complaints that we say some of our claimants have made, they would not have been ignored as they were here.”

Disclaimer of abuse

The Northwest Territories government denies there was any abuse at the home. It filed a cross-claim, saying that if the case is lost, Canada’s attorney general, who it says was responsible for the welfare of Inuit children at the time, must compensate the plaintiffs.

In its defense, the federal government points the finger at the territorial government, saying it alone has jurisdiction over child welfare services in the region.

Sun on ice, snow.
A road runs along the edge of the community with about 1700 inhabitants. (Karen McColl/CBC)

The plaintiffs, however, place the blame on both governments.

“We argue that the federal government was fulfilling its responsibilities by using local government resources,” Cooper said.

In his statement of defence, Canada’s attorney general said that because the alleged abuse took place decades ago, any evidence that police were aware of it had disappeared.

“RCCP has a policy of retaining certain documents for 20 years, and if those documents existed, they were destroyed,” the court documents state.

“All I’m asking for is… forgiveness”

All of the plaintiffs the CBC spoke to said they were frustrated and disappointed by the speed of the court process.

It has been five years since the lawsuit was first filed. Emails sent by the CBC to plaintiffs from Cooper show that one of the nine plaintiffs was offered a settlement by the territorial and federal governments.

Cooper declined to comment on whether a settlement had been reached, but shared the plaintiffs’ concerns.

“What’s frustrating, frankly, is the delay. Please get back to us sooner. Please resolve these issues… I really think we are caught between two levels of government,” he said.

“Governments are exacerbating the problem when they don’t address demands on time. They’re victimizing the plaintiffs … This group of victims of abuse are all entitled to settlement, and they are entitled to settlement now.”

Steam rises from box houses in the winter light.
Steam rises from houses in Cambridge Bay. (Karen McColl/CBC)

The NWT government declined to comment on the case or any settlement that may be reached. The federal government sent an emailed statement saying that “Canada, the provinces, territories and other administrators must take appropriate steps to resolve legal disputes in order to provide a meaningful solution to this painful legacy of mistreatment of Indigenous children.”

Meanwhile, Paul doesn’t know what he’ll do with any money he might get, but said he wants more so he can put the lawsuit behind him.

“I have to drive by that building every day. I forgave them, the people who did us harm, but I only ask for forgiveness from the government.”

Support is available. If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where you can get help:

This guide from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health shows how to talk about suicide with someone you care about.

Source link