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November 27, 2011 permalink
The CBC exposes treatment of mentally retarded children and adults at Ontario institutions such as Huronia near Orillia continuing until 2009. audio link (mp3).
The Gristle in the Stew - Charley Boorman - Ariel Dorfman
It was one of 16 such institutions which over the generations were home to 50,000 people.
The last of them was closed in 2009.
Parents were told their children would be cared for, that it was all in all the best thing for them.
It is now coming to light that this was not the case.
For the first time, adults who grew up in these places are telling harrowing stories of abuse and neglect.
We begin our program this morning with a special documentary by David Gutnick about Huronia, and the people who lived and suffered there.
It is called The Gristle in the Stew..
Addendum: A settlement of $35 million has been reached. It sounds big, but divided by the number of victims is quite small.
Huronia institution cemetery a painful reminder of neglect and abuse
As part of the $35 million settlement with former residents of Huronia Regional Centre, Ontario will offer a formal apology and a promise to maintain the cemetery and create a registry of all those buried there.
Most of the 2,000 children and adults buried in the unkempt field across from Huronia Regional Centre were laid to rest in unmarked graves.
Others are identified by numbers scrawled on small slabs of concrete hidden amid overgrown grass.
For former residents of the government-run institution for the developmentally delayed in Orillia, the cemetery has served as a painful reminder of the neglect and abuse they have long insisted occurred there.
But that may soon change. On Tuesday, the Ontario government settled a historic class-action lawsuit with former residents of Huronia. The terms include $35 million, a formal apology — and a promise to maintain the cemetery and create a registry of all those buried there.
“I’m happy with the settlement, but I just think about all the pain and death and loss,” said Marilyn Dolmage, a litigation guardian for Marie Slark, one of two lead plaintiffs in the case. “The class action is about the survivors, but the survivors are honouring those that didn’t survive.”
The settlement, which is still subject to court approval, was announced in a Toronto courtroom after the start of the long-awaited hearing was adjourned on Monday for 24 hours, prompting concern among some former residents that their stories would not be heard.
About 3,700 surviving residents are eligible to file a claim for part of the $35-million settlement, which is a fraction of the $1 billion in general damages the plaintiffs were seeking for the alleged abuses they said the Crown knew were occurring, but failed to take action to prevent. (They sought an additional $1 billion in punitive damages.)
Yet following the announcement, there were tears of joy outside the old Canada Life building, as former residents expressed relief at receiving some semblance of closure. Many spoke of their friends that died at Huronia.
“I didn’t come here just for the money. I came here for justice. I came here for the kids that couldn’t speak,” said Edgar Riel, who was dropped off at Huronia in the ’60s, at age 9.
During his time at Huronia, which closed in 2009, Riel said he was forced to haul gravel without being paid and suffered emotional and physical abuse — just a few of the litany of allegations outlined in the written opening arguments the plaintiffs submitted earlier this month.
The Ontario government denied in its statement of defence that abuse, mistreatment or assault occurred at the facility.
Robert Ratcliffe, Crown lawyer for the Attorney General of Ontario, told the court on Tuesday that the parties “worked very long and hard to resolve this matter.”
“In our view, it’s a fair and reasonable solution,” he said.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said she was pleased with the outcome.
“Obviously it is a history that people needed to grapple with, and there needed to be some closure,” she said.
The case, however, will likely remain in the spotlight. Under the terms of the settlement, 65,000 documents — including internal government documents, police reports, eyewitness accounts and letters from concerned parents — will also be made public.
“You don’t have to accept what I say. The truth is in the documents,” Kirk Baert, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters.
The government’s pledge to maintain the cemetery is a significant victory for lead plaintiffs Patricia Seth and Marie Slark. Since the women launched the class action in 2010, every trip they have made to Orillia has included a stop at the graveyard.
“They didn’t do a very good job of keeping the graves up,” Slark said. “It’s like they wanted to forget that those people existed.”
Dolmage said she has watched Slark brush grass off the graves, “like (she) was nurturing and caring, giving some love to that person, and not wanting to leave that person alone again.”
According to the Ministry of Community and Social Services website, there are 571 marked graves and around 1,440 unmarked graves at the cemetery at Huronia, which was founded in 1876 as the Orillia Asylum for Idiots.
Prior to 1958, numbers were all that marked gravestones, “to protect the privacy of the resident and their family.” The last institutional burial was in 1971.
In 1990, the government erected a monument at the cemetery, but Dolmage said it is not visible from the road, and the chain that surrounds some of the plots does not encircle the unmarked graves. (Dolmage’s brother Robert, who died at Huronia in 1961, is buried in a family plot in Hamilton.)
Jody Brown, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said historical records will help the government compile a registry, “so people know who was interred there.”
Brown said the agreement stipulates that there should be a fence or “some kind of demarcation” that makes clear it is a final resting place “and not just a patch of grass that hasn’t been mowed for a while.”
The settlement agreement must be heard before a judge by Dec. 16. If approved, it will become effective 30 days later, at which point former residents will be able to submit claims. They are eligible to receive up to $42,000 each, depending on the severity of alleged abuses outlined in the claim.
Terms of the Huronia settlement
- A $35-million settlement fund, which includes legal fees.
- A formal apology from the Ontario government to all former residents of Huronia.
- A commemorative plaque to be installed on the grounds of Huronia.
- The Ontario government will ensure proper maintenance of the cemetery and create a registry of those buried there.
- Some 65,000 documents pertaining to the case will be made public.
- The claims process is open to all 3,700 surviving residents of Huronia who lived there between 1945 and 2009.
- Former residents are eligible to receive a maximum of $42,000, depending on the severity of alleged abuses outlined in the claim.
- The settlement is still subject to court approval.
Source: Toronto Star