HALIFAX — An apology from University of King's College for the abuse endured by its students at the hands of former professor Wayne Hankey is a “watershed moment” for other survivors, a Halifax lawyer said Thursday.
Liam O'Reilly filed a civil lawsuit last March on behalf of a man who says Hankey sexually assaulted him in the late 1970s when he was 14. The apology Wednesday from King's president William Lahey shows others who may have been abused by Hankey that they are not alone, O'Reilly said.
“You have a platform for all the survivors to now come forward and not be concerned that people are going to say, 'Well, that's not true' or 'That didn't happen,'" O'Reilly said in an interview, adding: "Our expectation is that you're going to see even more come forward now."
Lahey made his apology following the release of a report from a Toronto-based law firm that said the school failed to address allegations of Hankey's abuse and instead protected him. The report commissioned by the university compiled stories from interviews with more than 80 people who interacted with Hankey, who taught at the school between 1974 and 2015 and was charged with sexual assault in 2021.
Hankey died in February 2022 at the age of 77, before his case came to trial.
"To the men who have been harmed by Dr. Hankey's reprehensible behaviour and the university's inaction to spare you from it, I apologize to you, deeply, sincerely and publicly," Lahey said Wednesday, speaking before King's staff, students and media.
O'Reilly said the apology expressed the sentiments that those abused by Hankey wanted to hear.
The man O'Reilly represents says Hankey fed him alcohol and sexually assaulted him over the course of three days in the late 1970s at the president's lodge on the campus of Dalhousie University, the notice of action says. The man was 14 at the time, and he was there because he'd been introduced to Hankey as a devout Anglican with a keen interest in becoming a minister.
Hankey was an Anglican priest until he was removed from the priesthood in 1991. The lawsuit says the boy was led to believe that Hankey's assaults were part of his admission to the school, and a prerequisite to becoming a minister.
The suit was filed with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and its defendants include King's board of governors and Dalhousie University.
O'Reilly said he is hopeful after Lahey's comments Wednesday that the suit will be settled out of court.
A trial "can be re-victimizing for survivors," he said. "We're looking forward to having conversations with King's about how to move forward in a constructive and remedial way."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2023.
The Canadian Press