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Vol 38  No 4
October 13, 2005


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Supreme Court of Canada to hear appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal in the case of a former student who had sued Memorial University and two of its professors but who lost that case on appeal.

Wanda Young won at her original trial but lost on appeal.

She is now appealing to Canada’s highest court to have the decision that favoured Memorial University and the professors overturned. That decision was rendered by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal last year.

The Supreme Court will hear Ms Young’s appeal on Oct. 20. In addition to presentations from Ms Young’s and the university’s lawyers, the Child Welfare League of Canada (CWLC) has been granted intervener status in the case.

Ms Young originally sued the university and Social Work professors Leslie Bella (since retired) and William Rowe (former director of the School of Social Work), claiming that the professors had breached a “duty of care” owed to students when the professors reported a suspected case of child abuse based on an academic paper written by her in 1994.

In 2003 a jury awarded Ms Young a total of $839,400 in damages relating to her complaint.

The university appealed that decision and it was overturned with Memorial University and the professors vindicated.

“From the outset, the university has argued that the professors acted in good faith, in accordance with the highest professional standards and out of an honest desire to protect children,” said Peter Morris, associate director of marketing and communications. “There was no malice and no bad faith. They had reason to be concerned and they felt they had a legal obligation under the Child Welfare Act to report that concern.

“It’s important to also understand that Ms Young was never denied consideration of or admission to the School of Social Work because of this incident. She had applied on two occasions prior to this, but her grades had been insufficient to garner admission to this highly competitive program. She did not subsequently apply for admission.”

Mr. Morris said the Supreme Court of Canada decision is important because it will help establish the principles involved in reporting such suspicions.

“This case is less about Memorial University, the professors or Wanda Young and more about what will constitute in law the duty to report and valid grounds for suspicion,” he said. “The current thinking is that all suspicions or concerns regarding child welfare should be reported to the authorities. The Child Welfare League of Canada is so concerned about that principle that it is intervening in support of the university’s and the professors’ position.”

The Supreme Court is not expected to render a decision in the matter until sometime in the new year.

“Memorial is confident in its position but we will not speculate on the Supreme Court decision before it is rendered,” said Mr. Morris. “And, whatever the decision of the Supreme Court, the university will accept it without question. We remain sympathetic to Ms. Young’s situation. There is no doubt that this matter has had a profound impact on her. But we have always held, and this has been supported by the courts, that as regrettable as the misfortune is that befell her, it was not the result of any improper action by the university or its professors.”

Complete details of the case can be found at www.mun.ca/marcomm/young_v_memorial.php.

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