City Not Vicariously Liable For Alleged Sexual Abuse by Police Officer

With more victims of historic childhood sexual abuse prepared to come forward and have their claims heard we have the benefit of more decisions being published by the BC Courts addressing the circumstances when an institution will be held vicariously liable for sexual abuse by their employees.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, further addressing this area of law.
In last week’s case (R.G. v. Vancouver Police Board) the Plaintiff alleged to be the victim of historic sexual abuse at the hands of the Defendant police officer.  (its worth noting the Court made no findings about whether the abuse actually took place).
In his childhood the Plaintiff “alternated between living with his parents….and living with Mr. Hughes“.  They formed what was described as a father-son relationship.  The Plaintiff alleged he was abused in the course of this relationship.  The Defendant was a member of the Vancouver Police Department at the time.
The Plaintiff sued the personal defendant and also the City of Vancouver arguing they were vicariously liable for the abuse.  Mr. Justice Burnyeat disagreed and dismissed this portion of the Plaintiff’s claim.  In finding no employer vicarious liability should arise in these circumstances the Court provided the following reasons:

[27] The Plaintiff submits that society teaches children from an early age to trust police officers and that makes children and young people particularly vulnerable to the abuse of power by police officers.  In the circumstances, the Plaintiff submits that the City “has sufficient control, either directly or indirectly through its constant presence on the Board, to be vicariously liable for Hughes’ wrongdoing”, and that the City “had sufficient power over him through his extracurricular activities – pistol shooting competitions and fishing derbies, during which his abuse of … [the plaintiff] continued that it should be held vicariously liable”.

[28] If I could conclude that Mr. Hughes was an employee of the City, I could not conclude that his wrongful acts were sufficiently related to conduct authorized by the City.  I can find no “significant connection”.  I can only find that there were incidental connections between the abuse that occurred and the location of the abuse.  Many of the alleged abuses took place in VPD vehicles.  However, the power that was exerted by Mr. Hughes was the power flowing from the “father-son” relationship which had grown and not any relationship between the Plaintiff and Mr. Hughes as a police officer.  As well, the fact that Mr. Hughes was granted access to a VPD police vehicle did not afford any particular ability for Mr. Hughes to abuse his power.

[29] In rejecting the submission made on behalf of the Plaintiff, I cannot conclude that the wrongful acts of Mr. Hughes are sufficiently related to conduct authorized by the City to justify the imposition of vicarious liability.  There is not a significant connection between any promotion by the City and by society in general to promulgate the message that children should be taught from an early age to trust police officials and the significant wrongs that are alleged to have occurred.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Burnyeat, RG v. Vancouver Police Board, vicarious liability

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ERIK
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When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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