MHAs blast government for not removing limitations on child abuse 'for the sake of Jack Whalen'

Jack Whalen built a replica of the solitary confinement cell where he estimates he spent about two years of his life. He drove it to Ottawa, and parked outside the national human rights monument. (Christian Patry/CBC - image credit)
Jack Whalen built a replica of the solitary confinement cell where he estimates he spent about two years of his life. He drove it to Ottawa, and parked outside the national human rights monument. (Christian Patry/CBC - image credit)

Eddie Joyce is growing frustrated with the Newfoundland and Labrador government after raising the same petition 10 times in the House of Assembly, asking government to amend a law that prevents some victims of childhood physical abuse from suing for compensation.

Joyce, who sits as an Independent, is one of several members who has brought forward the petition to amend the province's Limitations Act to remove the statute of limitations for physical abuse suffered by children.

He's been raising the issue since last fall, after former Whitbourne Boys' Home resident Jack Whalen built a replica of a solitary confinement cell and brought it to Confederation Building in protest of his treatment as a child in the 1970s, and his inability to sue over it.

"We know this happened, and what are we doing?" Joyce asked. "What are we doing as legislators, the 40 of us in this House, what are we doing? I know it's complicated. I understand that. But I know complicated situations can be resolved in this House of Assembly."

Eddie Joyce has been one of the most vocal supporters of Jack Whalen's petition to amend the Limitations Act. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Whalen estimates he spent 730 days in solitary confinement between the ages of 13 and 17. As it stands, Whalen would have had until his 21st birthday to come forward with a claim in civil court, or his 29th birthday if the abuse had been repressed and discovered later in life.

If he had been sexually abused — like the dozens of other Whitbourne Boys' Home residents who successfully sued the government — he would have no issues under the Limitations Act.

After running into this dead end in court, Whalen built a replica of his cell and marked 730 tallies on the walls inside. He extended an open invitation for Justice Minister John Hogan to sit inside with him.

To date, Hogan hasn't taken him up on the offer. The family says they've had no contact with the minister, despite efforts to speak with him.

Hogan has said that he can't speak to the situation since Whalen's case is currently before the courts. Whalen — represented by his daughter, Brittany — will attempt to have the province's Limitations Act ruled unconstitutional during a two-week trial in October.

The petition has been brought up 30 times in the House of Assembly since it was first read in by NDP MHA Lela Evans last fall.

It was read in four times on Tuesday and another four times on Wednesday, taking up the entire time allotted to petitions for both days. When Evans took her turn, she referred to Whalen as "the real champion that is looking after children," drawing applause from all non-Liberal MHAs.

Paul Lane is MHA for Mount Pearl-Southlands.
Paul Lane is MHA for Mount Pearl-Southlands.

Paul Lane, MHA for Mount Pearl-Southlands, has brought the issue up in the House of Assembly on numerous occasions. He's growing more frustrated with each instance. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Independent MHA Paul Lane has also been a vocal proponent of the petition. Each time he brings it up, Lane appears a little more frustrated than the last time.

"Someone could literally take a child, they could pound them to a pulp, they could lock them up like an animal in a cage, but because there was no sexual element, we are just going to pretend there's nothing we can do," Lane said during Monday's session.

'Let's just take it out of the courts'

All parties can avoid October's trial with a small tweak to the legislation that removes time limits for survivors to come forward. A similar change was made for survivors of childhood sexual abuse following revelations about abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage.

That change would bring Newfoundland and Labrador in line with all other provinces in Canada, except for New Brunswick.

"I understand that it is before courts, but let's just take it out of the courts," Joyce said on Monday. "The government can take it out of the court and say we're going to go ahead and we're going to amend the legislation. It can be done. I understand it's complicated. I understand it's about money, but we have to look at the abuse that happened."

Joyce said he was a youth counsellor in the 1980s and worked with children from the Whitbourne Boys' Home.

The petition has the unanimous support of all non-Liberal members of the legislature, but unless the government decides to act, it won't go anywhere. Joyce used his time on Monday and Tuesday to urge the government to do something.

"I call upon the government again, for the sake of Jack Whalen and other people that were injured so bad that it is a life-long mental suffering that they have to go through, that we do something."

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