Canadian Lawyer

March 2022

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 13 of 51

12 FEATURE CROSS EXAMINED A FINAL VICTORY FOR ABUSE SURVIVORS Geoff Budden's Mount Cashel Orphanage clients ultimately won their legal battle, but he still remembers how they handled defeat "The lesson I took from it was really one about [my clients'] characters, and how their life experience, as unfortunate as [it was] in many ways, nevertheless delivered them to this place of real graciousness" GEOFF BUDDEN could easily see a recent victory for Mount Cashel Orphanage abuse survivors as the most noteworthy part of a fight that has dominated his practice for decades. Budden's clients successfully appealed a trial decision at the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal in the summer of 2020. The appeal decision found the Archdiocese of St. John's vicariously liable for horrific abuse suffered by boys at the orphanage. The Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to the Archdiocese in 2021. But when Budden reflects on a significant moment in the case, he does not mention the victory. He describes his clients' reactions when they lost at trial. "We called over 50 men to tell them that we had lost the case," says Budden. "That's really the worst news you could deliver to somebody. And you wouldn't be shocked if some of them were mad at you, saying 'you screwed up, thanks for nothing,' those kinds of negative comments. But we got none of that. I can literally say that there was no negativity, nothing other than empathy for us." Budden attributes his clients' reactions to the wisdom they have acquired over their long lives – they lived at the orphanage back in the 1940s and 1950s. "The lesson I took from it was really one about their characters, and how their life experience, as unfortunate as [it was] in many ways, nevertheless delivered them to this place of real graciousness." Budden, who grew up in the east end of St. John's, where he still lives, began his career as a criminal and family lawyer in the early 1990s. He shifted to representing survivors of abuse in the late 1990s and has focused on this area ever since. Although many observers might see his work for abuse survivors as heroic, Budden shies away from this characterization. "It would be inaccurate to say I was some sort of heroic figure taking on these great forces. I never felt it was personal like that." Budden also credits trailblazing lawyers in Newfoundland who took on similar cases before he did, providing a model. Before Budden, former premier Danny Williams and Williams' law partner Jack Harris repre- sented several dozen Mount Cashel survivors. "I learned largely by observing what those guys were doing and doing much the same thing myself." Budden first started representing abuse survivors in 1991 when a lawyer he dealt with on family law matters referred a client who had lived at Mount Cashel. The client wanted to speak to somebody about starting a civil action, and the other lawyer couldn't repre- sent him due to a conflict. Budden observed the approach of Harris and Williams and says the trail they blazed meant "he did not experience any kind of hostility in the community or from the bar for taking on these institutions." Representing abuse survivors can take a toll on lawyers due to what is often termed "secondary trauma." But Budden says that's

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Canadian Lawyer - March 2022