Physical, psychological and sexual abuse of minors leaves an indelible mark on their lives. The pain never goes away completely, but more and more victims are seeking recognition and retribution.
Harriet Johnson, mother of six and a Montreal resident, has taken a two-track approach for abuse suffered at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children in Dartmouth, outside Halifax, over five years.
Johnson is among 33 people who have signed on to a class-action lawsuit against the home and the province of Nova Scotia, while individual cases of 56 former residents are before the courts. Johnson’s complaint of sexual assault by a former staff employee is among 38 being investigated by RCMP and Halifax Regional police.
Observers say complaints and Third World-like conditions were ignored because the home had the word “colored” in its name and was primarily for black and mixed-race children—out of sight and out of mind in a pre-civil-rights-era mindset.
Johnson, 43, who was featured in a powerful W5 investigative piece last month, retold her story in an emotional interview. Details are part of a 16-page affidavit filed this summer with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court as part of the lawsuit.
None of these allegations has been proved in court and no criminal charges have been laid.
Raised by her grandparents in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Johnson was 8 in 1976 when her grandmother died and her grandfather started drinking heavily. A year later, she and her cousin were driven to get some ice cream with a visiting lady, but instead were taken to a “new home.”
“It looked raggedy on the outside, and the children inside stunk so bad, with clothes that were torn and stained. It looked like every child was depressed,” Johnson remembers.
“I accidently urinated in my bed and was beaten by a woman with a switch. It was the first of many beatings.”
The next few years “were hell. I saw the devil and I didn’t like it. I saw other residents being abused sexually, physically, and verbally. Conditions were filthy. Lice were common. We had to sleep together to stay warm in winter.”
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“The staff, who were black, called us niggers, told us we would never be loved, would never amount to anything.”
She was placed in a new building and says she suffered her first assault when driven by Georgie Williams, then a staff member of the home, to a Dartmouth junior high school.
“I was barely 9 and he got me in his car, drove me to my school, told me to climb into the back seat, pinned me down, and raped me.
“I was screaming and crying and begging him to stop and he did not stop until he ejaculated, and there was blood.
“I never told anybody because he told me not to. I was afraid. I was traumatized.
“I ran away the next night, was caught hitchhiking to Halifax. An employee of the home grabbed me by the hair, opened the car door and rubbed my eye across the open car door.” She says she was taken to a hospital to have her wound stitched up hours later.
Weeks later, she ran away a second time and Williams her found her and is alleged to have forced himself on her again. When she ran away a third time, Johnson alleges her abuser set her up as a teenage prostitute with the street name Peaches.
“He was my pimp. Then I changed my name to Candice. I loved Candice Bergen on TV.” Her abuser also called her “my No. 1 bitch,” she says.
Johnson says she lived, from the ages of 14 to 16, with other young prostitutes in the Mulgrave Park area of Halifax’s north end, allegedly managed by her original abuser.
“It’s the ghetto of Halifax. Dicky Carvery was in charge of the apartment, Johnson said in her affidavit, referring to the nickname for Clarence Dwitt Carvery, now deceased.
Williams, who has not worked at the home since 1983, has not answered mail or the phone at his East Preston home, the Halifax Chronicle Herald reports.
After an alleged severe beating for failing to earn enough money, Johnson decided to leave town with a travelling circus that was in town.
At one point Johnson said she talked to her son Sean, mentioned the assault, and at his urging decided to take action.
After getting nowhere by speaking to the home’s manager, Johnson filed a formal complaint with police of sexual assault on a minor. She also added her voice to the class-action suit.
Johnson says she spoke to her alleged abuser on the phone and slammed the phone in anger when he asked for forgiveness, which he minimized as “inappropriate behaviour.”
Why is she seeking justice now?
“I need to save a child, to make sure that one child does not need to go through what I went through. It hurts to know that that place is still open and running.
The home, which opened in 1921, is operated by a volunteer board of directors. The Nova Scotia government provides most of the funding through per-diem amounts per child. It raised $24,000 last year in its Eastlink Christmas telethon. The old building was replaced in 1978 by two new buildings nearby. It serves youth age 12-16 through the Akoma Family Centre and keeps siblings together until foster care can be found.