Province disputes lawsuit alleging abuse of people with disabilities

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The provincial government says too much time has passed to fairly try a lawsuit alleging abuse among children and adults living with disabilities at the Manitoba Development Centre.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/02/2019 (1314 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The provincial government says too much time has passed to fairly try a lawsuit alleging abuse among children and adults living with disabilities at the Manitoba Development Centre.

But a lawyer for one of the former residents say the court action will continue despite the province’s objection.

In a statement of defence filed in Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench last week, the province says it can’t defend itself properly since the “lengthy passage of time… has resulted in the spoliation of evidence including adversely affecting the availability and recollection of witnesses”.

MANITOBA HISTORICAL SOCIETY Manitoba Development Centre

The province denies all of the allegations in the lawsuit, except for agreeing to the sections that say the MDC is located in Portage la Prairie and is operated by the province, the province hired people to operate it, and the facility has been in operation since 1890 to the present.

Regardless, Toronto-based lawyer David Rosenfeld, who acts for David Weremy, 74, said “we’re obviously going to proceed forward with the claim” and said the statutes the province wants to use won’t help derail the case.

Rosenfeld said all of the people who were at the MDC “suffer some form of developmental delay.

“Now they’re suggesting, they’re taking advantage of that disability to say they’re out of time. These people have a very difficult time accessing the justice system.

“And many of them, if not most, started there as children and this is the life they knew. They thought this is how life is and didn’t know it wasn’t and they could take a lawsuit to the court.”

The MDC opened as the Home for Incurables in 1890, was renamed the Manitoba School for Mentally Defective Persons from 1933 to 1963, then the Manitoba School for Retardates until 1967, the Manitoba School until 1985, and MDC after that.

At one time MDC housed 1,200 residents, all living with disabilities. Many, once they moved there, stayed for the rest of their lives. Today, with many being transitioned to group homes in the community, only 160 residents remain there.

Weremy, who is part of People First of Canada, a group that advocates for community-based support for adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities, launched a lawsuit in December for millions of dollars in damages, including $50 million for him. He lived at the MDC off and on for about 12 years starting in 1958, and was in and out between staying with family, foster homes, and caregivers until his final discharge in September 1977, when he was 33.

Weremy, who lived in a dorm with 31 other boys, claims he was raped by other boys and, while the staff were aware of what was going on, they didn’t do anything to stop the abuse.

As well, Weremy said he saw boys so hungry they would eat scraps from the garbage as well as feces from the toilet.

But the province replied in the court papers that it isn’t liable for any assaults which occurred between residents, while some residents there had eating disorders where they would eat “non-nutritive substances” until staff stepped in to stop it.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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