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Man files $5M lawsuit against Ont. government, Children's Aid Society alleging years of childhood abuse

Johnny Stavrou can be seen above. (Handout) Johnny Stavrou can be seen above. (Handout)
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A man from Toronto has filed a lawsuit against the Ontario government and the Children's Aid Society of Toronto alleging he was moved between more than 40 residential placements and subject to repeated sexual, physical, and psychological abuse during the 12 years of his childhood spent under provincial care.

A statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in December alleges Johnathan Stavrou was subject to repeated physical, psychological, and sexual abuse at the hands of various legal guardians after being removed from his biological parents' custody when he was six. It also alleges that, on two separate occasions, he was forced into youth detention centres without sufficient reasoning. There, he was subject to "cruel and unusual" punishment, including being physically restrained.

In turn, Stavrou is seeking $5 million in damages as a result of the alleged failure on the part of the defendants, which also include several youth detention centres and group homes in the area, to ensure his placements were free of abuse, homophobia, and isolation.

In an interview with CTV News Toronto, Stavrou said coming to terms with the trauma inflicted on him as a child has been difficult.

“The trauma I sustained happened under the care of state agents who have a mandate to keep children safe and I was just never safe,” he said.

Stavrou's claims have not yet been tested in court and a statement of defence has not been filed. The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached by CTV News Toronto. The Ministry of the Attorney General did not respond before publication.

Stavrou, now 29, was placed under the care of the province alongside his twin brother after being removed from the custody of his biological parents over substance abuse issues. He remained a ward of the state between the ages of six and 18. 

In June 1999, Stavrou was placed in a foster home in Orangeville, Ont., where he would spend his “formative years,” the lawsuit states. Over time, the lawsuit claims the environment at this home became hostile and abusive, and that he was targeted physically and psychologically for his sexual orientation by his foster parents.

When he was 10, Stavrou claims a foster parent struck him in the face and that he responded in self-defence, prompting the family to involuntarily place him in a youth detention centre for several weeks. There, the suit claims he was subject to “solitary confinement, mechanical restraints, and psychotropic drugs intended to pacify and sedate him.”

“He did not require any such treatment, all of which amounted to cruel and unusual punishment,” the claim reads. It also alleges that staff at the centre determined Stavrou’s claims of abuse to be false without proper investigation. “Effectively, Johnny was victim-blamed, unlawfully detained in a secure treatment facility and medicated for defending himself after being struck by [his foster parent],” it continues.

Three years later, the lawsuit alleges Stavrou was again struck by a foster parent, resulting in a second admission to the detention centre. 

While living with the Orangeville foster family, Stavrou was subject to various forms of corporal punishment and solitary confinement, the lawsuit claims. The parents prevented Stavrou from using the bathroom as he wished, locking him in the basement for extended periods of time, forced him to exercise outdoors in the middle of the night, and mockied him for his sexual orientation, it alleges.

When he was 12, Stavrou was admitted to a group home in Oshawa, Ont., where he stayed for about eight months. While living at the home, he was sexually assaulted and raped by another resident, the suit alleges.

Stavrou’s lawyer, Paul Miller, said the claims outlined in the lawsuit would constitute a “complete failure” on the part of the province to protect its most vulnerable. “If the allegations are proven true, the abuse is horrific and the damage is staggering,” he said.

Now working as a paramedic, Stavrou has had to seek extensive psychotherapy for his mental injuries in the years since he left the system, according to his lawyer.

“He’s done a remarkable job to try and make a life for himself but you can't just wipe away the most important years of your life and say it’s okay – it’s not okay,” Miller said.

Stavrou can be seen above. (Handout)

Within his professional and personal life, Stavrou has suffered severe episodes of mental health breakdowns, arising from his treatment while under provincial care, the lawsuit outlines. “He has struggled to maintain employment and relationships with colleagues, authority figures, friends and family,” it reads.

In all, the suit claims the Crown contravened Ontario's Child, Youth and Family Services Act in failing to protect Stavrou from abuse and provide stability through sufficient home placements. According to Miller, it's a first step toward meaningful change.

“It takes more than a lawsuit to affect change,” the lawyer said. “If you’re successful, you have to then get in front of the ministry and go, ‘Look. This happened. We have proven this. What are you going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again?’”

But if the claim helps one child avoid a similar situation, it will have been worth it, Stavrou added.

“The biggest reason why I’m doing this is just that I don't want another child to have to go through something like this, ever.”

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