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Class Claims B.C. Gave Abusers a Pass

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - British Columbia dropped the ball in pursuing civil damages against criminals who have victimized minors in state custody since 1972, two women claim in a class action.

The named plaintiffs, both of Vancouver, claim in B.C. Supreme Court that they were in foster care when they were sexually assaulted, one by her foster father and the other by an assailant known to her foster family.

One woman says she became a permanent ward of the government in 1972 and was in foster care when she was hit by a car and nearly killed at age 6. The accident put her in a coma for several days, and she had to wear a full body cast. She claims the government failed to sue the driver even though the accident was reported to police.

When she was 7 and in the care of a different foster family, this woman says, she was sexually assaulted by a man who lived in the same neighborhood in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey.

She says the man held a knife to her throat and the assault lasted at least an hour. It stopped when her foster brother saw it, shouted the girl's name, causing the man to drop the knife and flee.

The woman says police investigated but did not allow her to participate in the investigation, and she doesn't know if the man was ever charged.

Her foster brother died years later in a car crash and could have helped press her "legal rights against the assailant, or her claims for criminal injuries compensation, or any other action, had charges proceeded through the courts nearer to the time of the incident, or if, any other action had been initiated by the defendants," the complaint states.

"The defendants did not pursue any action to recover damages or compensation on behalf of (the plaintiff) after the incident of the herein described motor vehicle accident or the incident of sexual assault," the complaint states.

"The driver and owner of the vehicle that struck (her) had assets and insurance. The assailant had assets and if not, government programs for compensation if criminally assaulted, existed."

The other named plaintiff claims that she and her sister were placed in the care of a single foster father in 1981. She says he began sexually abusing her when she was 11 and stopped only after she reported it to a school nurse, who told the government, which then removed the plaintiff and her sister from the home.

The foster father was charged and convicted of sexually assaulting the plaintiff and her sister, according to the complaint.

"The plaintiffs and the class could not have reasonably known that criminal injuries compensation was available to them due to their young age or how to sue for a tort," the complaint states. "The plaintiffs and the class were not in a position to make any later claims for compensation due to the lack [of] assistance from the defendants."

The class sued Her Majesty the Queen in right of British Columbia as represented by the Attorney General and Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia. It includes "all persons who, while resident in British Columbia, suffered personal injury while a minor as a result of a tort by a third party, and on or after 1972, were in the custody of ministers, directors, or agencies responsible for family services, and for whom the Defendants did not make a claim under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act, the Criminal Injury Compensation Act 1979, the Criminal Injury Compensation Act 1996, or the Crime Victim Assistance Act, or commence a civil action against the tortfeasor(s) to obtain compensation on their behalf, or hire a lawyer to represent their interests."

They are represented by E.F. Anthony Merchant of Surrey, B.C.

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