Supreme Court Upholds Appeal Court Decision on Vicarious Liability
January 2021 Charity & NFP Law Update
Published on January 28, 2021

By Sean S. Carter and Terrance S. Carter


On January 14, 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada denied the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s Newfoundland (the “Archdiocese”) application for leave to appeal from the decision of the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal (“Court of Appeal”) in a sexual and physical abuse case involving the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John’s Newfoundland rendered in Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s v. John Doe (G.E.B. #25), et al.. As discussed in Church Law Bulletin No. 58, the Court of Appeal on July 28, 2020 had found the Archdiocese vicariously liable for sexual and physical abuse that was committed by a civilian employee and by members of the Christian Brothers Institute Inc. (“Christian Brothers”) against former residents of the Mount Cashel orphanage.

In general terms, the Court of Appeal found that the Archdiocese was vicariously liable because there was an integrated relationship between the Diocese and the Christian Brothers, and that the parties were “sufficiently close to make the imposition of vicarious liability on the Archdiocese appropriate.” This finding was fact-specific, drawing on factors including the agreement between the Archdiocese and the Christian Brothers, the authority of the Archdiocese over the Christian Brothers and Mount Cashel, the public’s perception thereof, and the Archdiocese’s funding of the Christian Brothers, among others. The Court of Appeal further found that the sexual abuse committed by the Christian Brothers was sufficiently connected with their assigned tasks to run the Mount Cashel orphanage to find the Archdiocese vicariously liable.

In the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to deny the Archdiocese’s leave to appeal, the Court of Appeal’s decision remains unchallenged and is final and binding in Newfoundland and Labrador. This means that organizations in that province may be found vicariously liable for the actions of separate third-party organizations where a sufficiently close relationship exists and a connection exists to the incident causing the harm. Although the decision is not binding outside of Newfoundland and Labrador, it remains to be seen whether other provinces and territories will follow the precedent set by this case.


Read the January 2021 Charity & NFP Law Update