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          Huronia Apology Long Overdue


 By Susanna Kelley


Today, Premier Katheen Wynne will stand in the Ontario Legislature and apologize to the former residents of the Huronia Regional Centre for the developmentally disabled.

And if there ever was an apology that was well warranted and long overdue, this is it.

Apologies for past wrongs committed decades ago sometimes seem somewhat pointless, as current governments apologize for something they actually had nothing to do with because of the length of time that has passed.

But many of those who say they were abused at Huronia - physically, mentally and sexually - between 1945 and 2004, are still very much alive, and bear deep scars from the trauma they say was inflicted upon them.

The Ontario government was solely in charge during those years.

The apology is one part of a settlement the Ontario government agreed to after former residents, represented by two guardians, brought a class action suit against it, citing numerous instances and varieties of abuse.

But the settlement seems to have been only grudgingly accepted by the Wynne government at the last minute, just as the trial was to commence.

The Liberal government, under both Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, fought these developmentally disabled adults every step of the way, and still will not admit it had any duty to care for them when they were children at the Centre it was in charge of.

As a matter of fact, the settlement agreement explicitly states that the government is not admitting to any liability.

Which begs the question: then what exactly is it that Kathleen Wynne is apologizing for?

It will be interesting to see exactly how she words an apology for something she's still not admitting to.

Even other Liberals are shocked their government won't admit it had a responsibility to care for such helpless children and protect them from abuse.

"If a Liberal government doesn't think it has a duty to look after developmentally disabled children, what exactly does it think it's supposed to be there for?" said one veteran supporter.

Originally called the Orillia Asylum for Idiots when it opened in 1876, the institution was finally closed in 2009 after 133 years.

Former residents say they were housed here in often Dickensian, prison-like conditions.

Some of the stories are as horrendous as the original name.

Allegations of children being punished by making them pull their pants down and walk around in front of everyone like that - for the heinous "crime" of talking in the playroom.

Staff ordering bigger developmentally challenged youth to beat up the smaller ones for alleged rule infractions.

They tell of being made to lie face down on the ground with their hands behind their backs - dubbed "digging for worms."

Some of these children were dumped at Huronia by their parents, who visited only occasionally, or in too many cases, never at all.

Others were placed there by well-meaning parents unaware of the treatment their now-grown children say they were subject to.

Under the $35 million settlement, some 3,700 former residents will be eligible for as much as $42,000 each for what they say they endured at the Centre.

As well, a rundown cemetery where thousands or children who died at Huronia are buried, many in unmarked graves, will be properly maintained and a commemorative plaque put up.

And the 65,000 documents produced for the case and outlining the abuse allegations will be housed with Archives Ontario, available for scholarly research.

But after years of dragging it's feet on the case, why has the government agreed to a settlement now?

Some believe this is part of Kathleen Wynne's attempt to clear the decks before the next election, widely expected in the spring.

However, there are still similar cases pending over treatment of children at the Rideau Regional Centre and the Southwestern Regional Centre.

Premier, the spring election approacheth...












About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : December 08, 2013

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