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Quebec class action alleging sexual abuse in Jehovah's Witnesses can proceed

Last Updated Mar 5, 2019 at 3:15 pm EDT

MONTREAL — Quebec Superior Court has authorized a class action lawsuit against two Jehovah’s Witnesses entities alleging a culture of silence led to the covering up of sexual abuse.

The action was approved for minors who are current or former Jehovah’s Witnesses and allege they were sexually assaulted in Quebec by either an elder of the religious group or by a fellow member.

Lisa Blais, a former follower of the religion, filed the motion in September 2017, alleging she was sexually assaulted by a member of the group when she was a child.

The Feb. 27 ruling authorizing the lawsuit cites Blais’ allegation that Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders sought to discourage Blais from reporting her assailant to police because she would have risked tarnishing the image of Jehovah.

Blais was expelled from the religious group in 1996.

The action seeks $150,000 in moral damages and $100,000 in punitive damages for each member of the class. It names the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, the religion’s main legal entity, as well as the Canadian branch.

Judge Chantal Corriveau notes in her decision that the purpose of a class action is not to put a religion on trial.

“The class action does not call into question the beliefs conveyed,” she wrote. “However, it is possible to submit to the courts ways of doing things that may be faulty and cause harm to victims.”

The Canadian Press