More voices calling for end to MDC

Others dispute claims of abuse

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For five nights, until he threatened to punch the perpetrator, Aime says he was raped by another boy in his dormitory at the Manitoba Developmental Centre.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/05/2010 (4515 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For five nights, until he threatened to punch the perpetrator, Aime says he was raped by another boy in his dormitory at the Manitoba Developmental Centre.

This was more than 40 years ago, when Aime was 12 and was sent to live at the institution for the mentally disabled in Portage la Prairie because he was fighting with other kids.

Aime, who did not want his last name used, said sexual assaults were a common occurrence when the lights went out and staff closed the dorm’s door. He told staff about the abuse, but he said their response was "suffer."

WAYNE.GLOWACKI@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Aime, a former resident of the MDC in Portage la Prairie, says he was sexually and physically assaulted while living there.

In his six years at the MDC, Aime says, staff also kicked and slapped him, and a male nurse broke his hand. After his doctor complained, the nurse was fired and charged, he said.

"They thought I was a good target because I had bad eyesight," he said.

Former residents of the MDC who lived there in the 1950s and ’60s tell very similar stories of abuse — some are detailed in a video documentary made several years ago as part of a lobbying effort to close down the MDC and other institutions for the disabled in Western Canada. Advocates for the disabled say it’s only a matter of time before they ask the province to launch an investigation or consider taking legal action themselves.

Their first priority, though, is to see the MDC bulldozed. Groups like People First of Canada fear pursuing litigation might sidetrack that goal.

Late last month, an Ontario judge gave the green light to a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 3,000 former residents of the Huronia Regional Centre, formerly the Orillia Asylum for Idiots. Former residents who say they were physically and emotionally abused are suing the Ontario government for $1 billion.

And British Columbia recently settled a class-action lawsuit launched by former residents of the Woodlands School for children with mental disorders. About 1,100 former students will get a "common experience payment" like the one given to Indian residential school survivors.

B.C.’s settlement came years after a damning report by B.C.’s ombudsman that found sexual assaults, beatings, bullying and belittling at the Vancouver institution were systemic, not the result of a few bad apples.

"When they opened that can of worms there, it was mind-boggling," said Shelley Rattai, executive director of People First of Canada. "For anyone to think it only happened at Woodlands is dreaming."

But former residents of the MDC might face a credibility hurdle — their memories and the finer details of their stories could be questioned because of their developmental disabilities. And both senior staff at MDC and Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh said processes would have been in place at the time to thoroughly investigate complaints of abuse.

Front-line staff at MDC, along with several families with loved ones who are longtime residents, expressed skepticism that systemic abuse ever occurred.

Ron Dirr, whose sister has been at the MDC for 30 years, said "not once" has he ever seen any signs of abuse, and his chatty sister would have relayed any stories. "If that was going on, I would have been the first to hear about it," he said.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

WHAT TO DO WITH THE MDC

The NDP government has made no commitment to close the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie.

But cost, efficiency and stigma suggest the old institution will eventually be torn down or completely overhauled as the 285 current residents begin to pass away.

"Really, the future is not that old-style institutional living," said Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh.

Renovating the existing buildings — to bring them up to personal care home standards, for example — is almost as expensive as tearing down and starting fresh.

But there are 700 highly trained staff, a huge parcel of park-like land and, arguably, a need for some specialized residential services. Here are some ideas floating around:

 

A specialized nursing home for people with severe disabilities, including mentally disabled or autistic people who have aged out of their community living group homes.

A crisis unit that could keep patients with disabilities for a year or more, get them stabilized, properly diagnosed and wean them off unnecessary medication before transitioning them to a community home.

An upgraded locked ward for sexual offenders and other high-risk patients who don’t belong in jail or at the Selkirk hospital for people with mental illness. That exists now at the MDC and will likely always be needed.

 

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