$35M settlement in class-action suit against Ontario government
Published Tuesday, September 17, 2013 10:19AM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, September 17, 2013 9:15PM EDT
A huge lawsuit against the Ontario government by former residents of Orillia’s Huronia Regional Centre has been settled.
The lawsuit claimed residents suffered abuse at the hands of their caregivers at HRC, which was home to people with developmental disabilities.
Today marked the end of a long road for former residents and their families.
The Ontario government will now pay $35 million to former residents and will make an official apology.
Patricia Seth and Marie Slark say they’re tired, but elated at reaching the end of the long road. They were sent to the HRC when they were just six and seven years old. As the principal plaintiffs in the class- action lawsuit filed against the provincial government, they wanted people to know what it was like to live in what they called the worst place on earth.
“To me it was a place of fear for all those years,” says Seth
During those years, Marilyn Dolmage worked as Seth and Slark's social worker – employed at the institution her own brother died at decades earlier. She's been trying to shine a light on what went on behind closed doors.
“They were taught not to speak up; they were punished for speaking up or having any autonomy,” says Dolmage. “They were completely under control.”
While today's settlement falls far short of the initial $2-billion claim, it includes an apology from the government. That’s something Slark says is long overdue.
“It means a great deal,” she says. “It's very important that they do this – a genuine apology.”
The suit covers those institutionalized at the HRC between 1945 until it was shut down in March 2009. Under the agreement, the minimum individual payout is $2,000, the maximum: $42,000.
More money will be given to those who suffered the most.
The agreement also calls for a commemorative plaque to be placed at the site, and the government will pay to identify who is buried on the grounds and properly mark those graves.
“This is a great deal for the survivors,” says lawyer Kirk Baert. “It was good of the province to make a settlement because it means people won't have to testify at trial and re-live all these terrible events.”
But some do want the world to know what happened to them. And so the province will allow scholars access to the site so those willing to tell their stories can be heard.
“I’m happy to move on with my life and I don't want anyone to suffer like me ever again,” says former resident Michael Callahan.
The agreement still has to be approved by the court. If approved payments can begin in early 2014, they want things to move as quickly as possible as many members of the class action are in poor health and they're all eager to close this chapter of their lives.