CHILDREN ORDERED TO PULL DOWN PANTS, WALK AROUND AS PUNISHMENT AT HURONIA REGIONAL CENTRE: ALLEGATION
By Susanna Kelley
If the children were caught talking in the playroom, they'd have to take their pants down and walk around that way in front of the 50 other developmentally handicapped residents present, Marie Slark alleges.
For sassing the staff back, Slark alleges she was put on medication from the age of 11 to 14.
When she tried to complain to her father during the only three times he visited her over nine years, he made excuses for them, she says.
Welcome to the Huronia Regional Centre circa 1970, or as it was originally named, the Orillia Asylum for Idiots.
Closed after 133 years in 2009, developmentally handicapped children were housed over the years in what some former residents allege were horrific, Dickensian prison-like conditions.
Thousands are suing the Ontario government in a massive class action suit that alleges they were systematically sexually, physically and emotionally abused while the Ontario government was exclusively in charge from 1945 to 2004.
What's more, the plaintiffs say the government knew about the abuse from the early 1970s on but did nothing substantive about it.
The trial begins next week.
Pat Seth was in the Huronia Regional Centre for 13 years, from the age of seven to 22.
She recalls the experience of "living in fear" of daily abusive punishments meted out by an all-powerful staff:
And ordering the residents to beat each other up was de rigueur for the girls as well:
Seth, now 59, has suffered nightmares for years from the experience.
There were no cubicles in the bathrooms, no doors, no privacy - just toilets lined up that the residents had to use in front of each other.
Some parents did try to complain.
"Corridors and dormitories stunk of human excrement," wrote parents of a developmentally disabled son to an MPP in the 1970's.
But many of the children, like Slark, had nowhere to turn:
In a document outlining their opening argument for the trial that begins next week, the plaintiffs say "residents were left to aimlessly walk or crawl around Huronia at times, often without any clothing."
Conditions were overcrowded and unsanitary, they allege.
"Residents were often not bathed or cleaned," the document says.
"By the early 1970's, if not well before, the administration was aware that conditions at Huronia were so unsanitary, any resident who was admitted would be exposed to Hepatitis (sic), parasite and other infectious diseases."
This constitutes systemic abuse, the document alleges - and furthermore, harm that was done "knowingly."
The government, for its part, says in its "Opening Statement" document that by the 1970's and 1980's, the overcrowding and staff shortages had eased.
This was because the policy of deinstitutionalization had taken hold and the residents were moving out to smaller homes in Ontario's communities.
It also argues that anti-abuse policies were in effect at Huronia Regional Centre as early as 1873, when it was made clear to staff they were not to use any violence on pain of being discharged.
By 1922, the government says, staff was required to report any cases of abuse.
"These policies clearly defined the nature of abuse and the punishment for those found to have abused a resident in any way."
"In 1969, a requirement was added for HRC employees to acknowledge in writing they understood the prohibition against abuse," the statement says.
The government statement calls cases of serious abuse "rare" and said procedure dictated that police would be called.