Tim Alamenciak / Toronto Star Order this photo
An Ontario judge has approved the settlement reached in the cases of Rideau Regional Centre and Southwestern Regional Centre, two institutions where people with intellectual and physical disabilities say they suffered widespread abuse at the hands of staff and other residents.
The settlement awards roughly $32.7 million to survivors of the two institutions and compels Premier Kathleen Wynne to issue a written apology. Wynne apologized on the floor of the Ontario legislature last year to survivors of Huronia Regional Centre, another institution where residents say they suffered widespread abuse.
David McKillop stood up in court, steadying himself on a cane, and spoke for the thousands who were subjected to abuse at the hands of staff and residents at Rideau Regional Centre, where he stayed as a child.
“When I was a 4 and a half years old, I got beaten up by staff and sexually assaulted, and we couldn’t do nothing about it. It was hard on me. I know other people had as bad abuse, too,” said McKillop to a courtroom full of survivors and supporters. “I stand up for a lot of people who don’t have a voice. I am proud of what I am doing for them, too.”
People in the packed courtroom applauded McKillop, who is acting as the lead plaintiff for the class-action, as he sat down.
The three institutions — Rideau, Southwestern and Huronia Regional Centre — were the largest and most notorious of Ontario’s 16 such facilities. Rideau, which opened in 1951 and closed in 2009, was in Smiths Falls, Ont. Southwestern, which opened in 1961 and closed in 2008, was in Chatham-Kent.
Rosalind Sterling, the litigation guardian for her sister Mary Ellen Fox, said their mother pulled Fox out of Southwestern upon learning that she was being shocked with a cattle prod as a form of discipline.
“The institution — if I hadn’t told the court this was an institution where disabled children were held — sounds more like a prison,” said Kirk Baert, a lawyer with Koskie Minsky LLP, who is representing the plaintiffs. “None of these people had done anything wrong, and none of them deserved this treatment.”
Survivors and their advocates have complained about problems accessing information in the lead-up to the claims process. Former residents, many of whom have intellectual disabilities, were initially forced to navigate a complex and costly freedom of information system to get details from their own case files.
After the Toronto Star published a story on the roadblocks they faced, the government simplified its process and agreed to waive the fees, including the $5 application fee, for people requesting their case files.
Lawyers are to appear again Tuesday, where their fees for all three cases will be decided by the court. They are requesting about $14 million for their work on the three cases, which would come out of the $67.7 million otherwise reserved for claimants.
Judge Barbara Conway, who also oversaw the Huronia case, ruled that the two settlements were “fair and reasonable.”
The settlements come shortly after a landmark resolution to a class-action lawsuit by Huronia survivors. Residents reported widespread physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the centre, which was operated like an asylum. The residents won a $35 million settlement and received apologies from all three major provincial party leaders delivered on the floor of the Ontario legislature.
It is estimated that, between Rideau and Southwestern, 4,300 people are eligible to claim compensation.
Survivors are eligible to receive up to $42,000, awarded on a sliding scale depending on the degree of abuse suffered. The court must still approve a claim form and the methods of notifying class-action members before the 120-day countdown begins.