Former residents of 12 provincial institutions will proceed on claims that they suffered systematic harm.
A Superior Court judge recently gave the go-ahead to a $1-billion class action lawsuit involving about 8,800 people with developmental disabilities who were housed for decades in 12 provincial facilities until they were closed.
Following the success of the Huronia Regional Centre survivors’ lawsuit, it’s by far the biggest class-action brought against the government for widespread physical abuse and neglect experienced by former residents of residential hospitals.
“We hope this action will provide recognition of the experiences of former residents and ultimately compensation for what they had to endure,” said David Rosenfeld, one of the lawyers who brought the suit.
Some 1,705 Huronia survivors settled their suit for $35 million in 2013 and will receive their cheques in the coming weeks. A further 1,728 former residents of the Rideau and Southwestern Regional Centres settled shortly afterward for $32.7 million.
Claims in the latest lawsuit, which have not been proven in court, include allegations that the government was negligent in failing to prevent abuse in the wards, despite being repeatedly warned about their deplorable condition by successive government studies.
The lawsuit covers people who were surrendered by their families or who were legally remanded into the Crown’s care at more than a dozen facilities across Ontario between the early 1960s and their closure in the 1980s and 1990s.
“The province of Ontario failed to properly care for and protect people who lived at the institutions,” states a pamphlet produced for members of the class action. “Residents of the institutions were emotionally, physically, and psychologically traumatized by their experiences.”
The Ministry of Community and Social Services did not return a request for comment.
The lawsuit was filed by Marlene McIntyre, who was admitted to D’Arcy Place in Cobourg in 1963, when she was only 13 years old. She lived under lock and key there and at another facility for the next 17 years, where she says she was regularly physically abused and saw other children being treated the same way.
“Residents were left to aimlessly walk or crawl around the Facilities at times, often without any clothing,” according to the lawsuit, and “were organized into work gangs to perform the routine and ordinary tasks of running such an institution.”
“For their physical labour in and around the institution, residents were either paid nothing at all or were paid minimal and completely unrealistic wages.”
McIntyre’s lawyers have four months to draw up a list of former residents to be included in the suit. Notices will be posted in government agencies, long term care facilities and Community Care Access Centres across the province. Ads will be placed in numerous newspapers, pointing to a toll-free number.
Centres in the lawsuit
St. Lawrence Regional Centre: April 1, 1975 – June 30, 1983
D’Arcy Place: Sept. 1, 1963 – Dec. 31, 1996
Adult Occupational Centre: Jan. 1, 1966 – March 31, 1999
Pine Ridge: Sept. 1, 1963 – Aug. 31, 1984
Muskoka Centre: Aug. 28, 1973 – June 30, 1993
Oxford Mental Health Centre/Oxford Regional Centre: Jan. 1, 1969 – March 31, 1996
Midwestern Regional Centre: Sept. 1, 1963 – March 31, 1998
L.S. Penrose Centre: April 1, 1974 – March 31, 1977
Bluewater Centre: April 1, 1976 – Dec. 20, 1983
Durham Centre for the Developmentally Handicapped: April 1, 1974 – Sept. 28, 1986
Prince Edward Heights: Jan. 1, 1971 – Dec. 31, 1999
Northwestern Regional Centre: April 1, 1974 – March 31, 1994