TORONTO (CP) – A woman who won $5,000 in damages after accusing the Canadian wing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of negligence over their handling of sexual abuse has been ordered to pay the group $142,000 to cover its legal costs.
Justice Anne Molloy ruled Monday that Vicki Boer has to pay legal costs to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada back to the year 2001 even though she won the case. Watch Tower must pay legal costs before 2001.
Boer also owes her lawyer about $92,000.
Reached at her Fredericton home Monday, Boer said she “didn’t think this is the way the justice system would be.”
“I thought even if I won a small amount, even if I won this victory, that I would not end up having to pay for the rest of my life.”
Boer refused a settlement offer of $20,000 that Watch Tower made in 2001.
Under an Ontario Courts of Justice Act regulation, even though Boer won her judgment, it was less than the total legal costs of Watch Tower and costs of the offer, and thus, she must pay the legal costs.
“To win such a small amount was difficult,” Boer said. “But because of the way the legal system is, if the judgment amount ends up being smaller than the original offer, then you pay everything.”
“If I had more money, I would certainly appeal it,” she added.
Boer’s husband, Scott, said he didn’t know if the family will appeal.
“We’ve pretty much exhausted our finances pursuing the case this far, and now we’re to the point where we simply couldn’t afford an appeal,” he said.
“We going to simply have to accept the judgment and if we have to declare bankruptcy for a victory, then we have to declare bankruptcy.”
Vicki Boer, who says she suffered sexual assaults between the ages 11 and 14, sought $700,000 from Watch Tower and three of its elders in a 1998 civil suit that claimed they were negligent and breached their duty.
No criminal charges were ever laid in the assault allegations, but Molloy’s written civil judgment said there was “no material dispute as to the general background leading up to . . . this matter,” and that “the plaintiff was sexually assaulted by her father.”
In the civil suit, Boer claimed that rather than immediately notify the Children’s Aid Society, elders told her not to seek outside help or report the alleged abuse. She also said they made her confront her father to allow him to repent his sins in accordance with biblical principles.
Boer said the confrontation was traumatizing and led to a rocky path in her adult life, which included a nervous breakdown and being ostracized by family, friends and other people in her southern Ontario community of Shelburne, about 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto.
While victims of sexual abuse normally aren’t identified in public, Boer agreed to allow her name to be published as part of her effort to raise awareness of what she has alleged was abuse within the confines of the church’s congregations.
When Boer left the faith and married outside the religion, she lost contact with her mother. Even as her mother was dying in hospital of cancer, she was not allowed to visit and never was not able to reconcile with her before she passed away.
“They took away my childhood, they took away so much from me,” Boer said Monday.
“And now the justice system makes it so they can take the rest of my dignity and what I have left in my family, and take away that little bit more.”