A Lawsuit Claims that Cambridge Bay Group Home Abuse Went Unchecked for Years

In the remote community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a modern government office building now stands on the site where the Cambridge Bay group foster home once operated. The home is at the center of a disturbing civil lawsuit filed by nine former residents against the governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as well as the Attorney General of Canada.

One of the plaintiffs, known as Paul, alleges that he and the other residents endured years of sexual assault and physical abuse while under the care of Walter and Annie Pokiak, the couple who ran the home during the 1970s and ’80s. Another plaintiff claims to have been assaulted by a fellow resident when the home was under different management.

The plaintiffs are seeking $11 million in damages from the Northwest Territories government, which administered the home, and the federal government, which provided funding. However, it’s important to note that none of the allegations have been proven in court.

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2018 in the Nunavut Court of Justice, and after five years, the plaintiffs are still awaiting a resolution. Paul, who resided in the home for about five or six years starting around 1980, recalls disclosing the abuse to RCMP and local social workers, but no action was taken at the time.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steven Cooper, suggests that racism may have played a role in the dismissal of the young Indigenous complainants’ allegations. Cooper believes that if non-Indigenous children had made similar complaints, they would have been taken more seriously.

The government of the Northwest Territories denies any abuse occurred at the home and has filed a crossclaim, arguing that if it loses the case, the Attorney General of Canada should bear the responsibility for compensating the plaintiffs. The federal government, in turn, points to the territorial government, asserting that child welfare services fell under its jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs, however, hold both governments accountable, arguing that the federal government employed territorial resources to fulfill its responsibilities. The Attorney General of Canada states that any evidence of police awareness regarding the alleged abuse has likely been destroyed due to the passage of time.

The plaintiffs express disappointment and frustration with the slow progress of the lawsuit. While settlement offers have been made to some plaintiffs, details remain undisclosed. The plaintiffs’ lawyer emphasizes the need for a swift resolution, as the prolonged process exacerbates the victims’ suffering.

The Northwest Territories government declines to comment on the case or any potential settlements, while the federal government acknowledges the importance of resolving litigation and acknowledging the mistreatment of Indigenous children.

For Paul, the primary desire is to move past the lawsuit and receive an apology from the government. Although he has forgiven those who wronged him, he must confront the building every day as a reminder of his past.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of sexual and/or physical abuse and is searching for legal rights and remedies, Slater Vecchio LLP is here to help. Please contact us for a free, private, confidential meeting.

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James Richards
As a member of our class action practice group, I act for survivors harmed by institutional abuses in both class action and individual civil sexual assault claims. I believe that every harmed person deserves to be heard and advocated for.