Process expected to take up to two years is taking much longer, applicants say
Ruth Staroszik, who was housed at Woodlands between 1970 and 1977, was one of the first to file a claim in 2010, but has received no word on compensation from the government.
Many victims of physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the infamous Woodlands facility have yet to receive compensation from the province, with a process that was expected to take a year or two dragging out to almost four years and counting.
The now-demolished New Westminster facility was operated by the province as a residential care home for mentally challenged children and adults until it was shuttered in 1996.
Victims launched a class-action lawsuit in 2002, after a report by then-ombudsman Dulcie McCallum found evidence of widespread abuse at Woodlands. In 2009, the two sides reached a settlement agreement, which offered compensation of between $3,000 and $150,000 to those held at the facility after Aug. 1, 1974. Before that date and the passing of the Crown Proceedings Act, there was no way for B.C. residents to sue the provincial government for wrongdoing. This means many Woodlands survivors are not eligible for compensation from the province, a position that has been upheld by both the B.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
The settlement agreement sets out a process through which eligible victims file a claim backed up by evidence of abuse suffered while at Woodlands. The province then responds, providing its own evidence and a judge decides how much, if any, compensation to offer.
The process was expected to take between one and two years, but many of those who filed their claims as early as 2010 have yet to hear anything from the government, said lawyer Carla Lloyd of Klein Lyons, a firm representing the claimants. She also noted that there are hundreds of claims that have yet to be filed.
Dorothy Staroszik’s daughter Ruth, who was housed at Woodlands between 1970 and 1977, was one of the first to file a claim in 2010, but has received no word on compensation from the government.
To date, the government has paid out $2.45 million, according to an emailed statement from Nancy Brown, acting assistant deputy attorney general. The ministry did not make anyone available for an interview and Brown’s statement did not say how many clients received the money, but did say that as of March, 85 claims out of 131 received by the ministry have been formally adjudicated or settled.
During her time at Woodlands, Ruth Staroszik suffered a dislocated hip after being “dumped out of her wheelchair,” fell on her face several times when she was not properly secured to a chair and suffered from untreated acid reflux for years, her mother said. Ruth, now 56, has cerebral palsy.
“I thought because she was in a medical place — there was nurses, doctors, everything — she would be looked after, but I was busy working and would get to see her once a week,” Staroszik said. “I didn’t realize till all the paperwork came out, I was devastated … I wasn’t aware what went on.”
Staroszik said the four-year wait for a decision from the government has been frustrating.
“It’s been a very stressful impact on Ruth and myself, trusting that the government will do the honourable thing toward these people. They seem to be dragging things out, just waiting,” she said, noting that three people with claims in process recently died.
In B.C. there is no legal mechanism for compensation to be paid out to the estates. “They’re just going to be kicked to the curb.”
Lawyers for the former Woodlands residents say the province is fighting every claim tooth and nail.
“Whatever we do to advance a claim, they hit back with twice as much,” said lawyer David Klein. “The money they spend on lawyers and experts would be better spent on paying compensation to the Woodlands victims.”
In an October 2012 ruling, Robert Bauman, then chief justice of B.C. Supreme Court, noted that for some of the later cases the province “has fully litigated each claim, and appears to have significantly outspent Claimants Counsel on the claims litigated to date.”
However, Brown, of the attorney general’s ministry, pointed the finger at the claimants’ lawyers, noting in her statement that “class counsel applied for and has been granted two one-year extensions and an interim extension until November.
“We are hopeful that class counsel will expedite these claims,” she said.
Staroszik said she just wants an answer, one way or another, on behalf of her daughter.
“How do I as a parent get the answers to when this is going to be solved and what’s holding it up?” she asked. “Keeping us on the hook for so long is not right.”