Ruth Ellis holds the hockey sweater her son Doug wore when he was 11 years old. Michelle Lalonde / Montreal Gazette
The sexual abuse 12-year-old Doug Ellis suffered at the hands of Westmount hockey coach John Garland poisoned his life and ultimately led to his death at 44, Ellis’s mother, Ruth, testified Monday during an application for approval of a class action suit against the city of Westmount.
Ellis’s was one of the testimonies that moved Judge Marc de Wever to tears as he explained he will announce his decision on the class action settlement very soon. Victims can still come forward and apply to be a part of the class action for 90 days after the settlement is formally approved and a 30-day appeal period has elapsed.
Westmount has already agreed in principle to pay up to a total of $2.5 million to victims of Garland, who is died in 2012, and to renegotiate the terms if more than 25 victims come forward. So far, 15 victims have been accepted as members of the claim, which was brought by 51-year-old filmmaker Matthew Bissonnette.
According to the claim, Garland’s abuse of young hockey players under his care spanned decades — with the earliest reported abuse occurring in 1953 and the most recent in 1987 — during which he was a hockey coach in the sports and recreation programs offered by the city of Westmount.
Alexander Pless, a lawyer and a childhood friend of several victims who helped bring the case to the fore, testified Garland’s proclivities were very well known in the community, to the point where kids joked about it openly.
In tears, Pless apologized to Bissonnette, to Ellis, and to other victims for his own failure to take the issue seriously when he was a youngster. He also spoke of the difficulty of finding legal representation for the class action suit, because of the resources involved in pursuing such cases and the relatively low awards.
Bissonnette thanked his legal team, Pless and the other victims for their help as well as the city of Westmount for dealing responsibly and compassionately with the lawsuit. He spoke of the need for higher compensation packages for victims, given the devastating consequences of sexual abuse.
Garland’s abuse of Ellis began in the early 1980s, when Ellis was 12 and a promising young player scouted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. His family did not learn about the abuse until shortly before he died.
As a child, Ellis had been a gifted student, a talented athlete and a happy child, his mother said. But when he was 12 and playing hockey on teams coached by Garland, all that began to change.
Ellis began wetting the bed, beating up his brother and failing in school. Drug abuse followed, psychiatric issues, hospital stays and even a prison sentence for a bank robbery. Ellis learned of the class action suit Bissonnette was leading and decided to join it. This was when he finally broke his silence.
“I received a phone call from Doug on June 8 two years ago, the day of my birthday, and out of the blue, he started to tell me about his old coach John Garland and what happened to him,” Ruth Ellis told the court.
“The conversation hit me hard, after 33 years of wondering what was wrong, what could have happened to my wonderful son. After years of tears, anxiety and terror and gut-wrenching torment, the answer was given to me by Doug. It all fell into place and finally made sense. “
As her son prepared to make a claim, she said, he experienced severe anxiety and sought medical help. She said his pharmacist warned that anxiety medications he was prescribed in combination with other medications he was on could cause heart complications. The hospital tested his heart and gave him the go ahead to take the anxiety medication, but he died of heart failure, his mother said. She attributes his death and his long-term psychiatric issues to the abuse.
Ellis spoke of the need for more facilities for male victims of sexual abuse, and more support for parents of children who report sexual abuse.
More details to come
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