2006/02/01

The Case of Wanda Young

Canada's Supreme court has ruled that a woman wrongly labelled a potential sex offender more than decade ago as a result of an essay written for a social work class is entitled to more than $800,000 in damages from Memorial University of Newfoundland.
In a decision handed down last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada said there was no basis to interfere with an earlier jury's verdict in the case, which centred on Wanda Young's claims that her life was ruined after she was wrongly reported as a potential sex abuser.

“Accordingly, we would set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and restore the trial judgment,” the court said.

The case dates back to 1994, when Ms. Young submitted the assignment as part of the course work for a social work class at Memorial.

An anonymous first-person account of sexual abuse taken from a text book was appended to the paper and her professor – wrongly believing the material was written by Ms. Young – contacted provincial Child Protection Services after talking to a supervisor.

For two years, without her knowledge, the assertion that she was a potential child abuser was passed between university professors, the RCMP and several social workers. Her attempt to study full-time at Memorial's School of Social Work was also turned down.

When the situation came to her attention in 1996, she immediately showed child-protection authorities the textbook. They apologized for the error, but she says the label hung over her for years, interfering with her ability to find work.

She later sued Memorial and her professor. The case went to trial in 2003 and a jury awarded her $839,400, although the university had argued that it had acted in accordance with child-welfare laws.

The Newfoundland Court of Appeal later overturned the financial award and ruled that Ms. Young could not seek a new trial.

In Friday's ruling, which quashed that decision, the Supreme Court noted that the Child Welfare Act requires everyone to “report information that a child has been, is or may be in danger of abandonment, desertion, neglect, physical, sexual or emotional ill treatment or has been, is or may be otherwise in need of protection.”

It also said those who have a statutory duty to report such cases have to be protected from any adverse legal consequences flowing from their action. In the current case, the court also ruled that university staff “acted in a way the jury found to be without any reasonable cause even to make a report."

“Here the university professors acted on conjecture and speculation which fell short of the required reasonable cause to make a report to [provincial Child Protection Services],” the court found.
For the text of the Supreme Court decision , see the decision

3 comments:

Kathy said...

Let's review the facts.

1. Social workers are required by law to report any suspicions they have regarding child abuse.

2. The professor in question is a social worker, as well as a university professor.

3. The student plagiarized -- she took a passage written by someone else, used it in her paper, and did not attribute it. She admits this.

4. The plagiarized passage was a first-person account of a woman sexually abusing a child. See fact #1.

Yes, of course she deserves all that money because of the damage to her reputation. NOT!

JMHO.

cardinal47 said...

I don't think you've got the facts straight. I suggest you read the Supreme Court decision.

Anonymous said...

Actually she did attribute it, just not correctly. She did mention the article in her bibliography. Common problem on student papers.

In any case the instructors could have cleaned everything up quickly by doing what the cps first said - talk to her.

They didn't - lazy or arrogant?

In any case - congrats to Wanda - you go girl!