Settlement is start to healing process, former HRC residents, staff say
Published Wednesday, September 18, 2013 7:58PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, September 18, 2013 7:59PM EDT
A settlement yesterday in a class action lawsuit is being well-received by many former residents of the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia.
The province has agreed to pay $35 million to those residents, many of whom suffered neglect and abuse while living here. But for a number of former HRC residents, the most important thing about the agreement isn't the money. Rather, it’s the apology from the government and the promise that those who died at the HRC will be properly remembered.
There is a final resting place for nearly 2,000 men, women, and children on the grounds. But it’s a cemetery with few headstones. Those that exist are overgrown with weeds, and some graves are marked only with numbers while others are not marked at all.
“I don't know who that is. That’s not fair,” says Harold Dougall, walking through the graveyard. “You have to have a name on it.”
Dougall doesn't know any of the people buried there, but he has something in common with all of them: he lived at the HRC from the age of 12 until he turned 18.
“For me it was terrible,” he says. “I hate it. I wanted to get out of here.”
When he found out a deal had been reached in the class-action lawsuit filed by former residents against the provincial government, he was happy that finally people will acknowledge, and apologise for, what went on here. And that the people buried in the cemetery will be identified and honoured.
“The government is wise to understand they're in the wrong,” he says.
Yesterday's settlement was a relief to many former employees as well.
“The settlement is a good outcome for everyone,” says Pam Carter, who worked at the HRC for 29 years.
She says staff during her time were compassionate and hardworking, but she acknowledges the way people with intellectual disabilities were treated years ago is much different than the way they are now.
“Things have evolved over those years, community standards have evolved over the years,” she says. “What was appropriate in 1945 certainly isn't appropriate now. It's been an evolution.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the government will set up a $35 million fund.
Former residents will be given between $2,000 and $42,000. That money will be tax free and for anyone living in a government-funded assisted living facility that money will not go back to the province.
Former residents will be able to keep every penny. Wally Hines can remember visiting the HRC when he was a little boy. His parents fostered nearly 70 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, many who came to their home from Huronia. He spoke to two of his foster sisters yesterday and hopes this will bring them some closure.
“If these people are entitled to some sort of money let’s give them their due,” he says.
The agreement still has to be approved by the courts, but if things go ahead payments could begin in early 2014. And even if someone hasn't been involved with the class action, it's not too late to get in touch with Koskie-Minskie, the law firm in Toronto handling this.
A lawyer there today says they plan on having information sessions throughout the province if people need more information about how to apply for compensation.