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This article was published 19/12/2018 (1127 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A lawsuit alleges hundreds of intellectually disabled people endured abuse, hunger and mistreatment at the Manitoba Development Centre decades ago.
The Portage la Prairie centre remains open with fewer than 200 residents, but its past practices are the focus of a statement of claim against the province. The Koskie Minsky law firm in Toronto filed the suit in Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench on Oct. 31, and hopes a judge will certify it as a class-action lawsuit. A hearing is anticipated in June or September.
The claim, which is intended to cover residents living at the centre now and back to 1951, states they suffered repeated physical and sexual abuse. The suit alleges staff beat residents, and that residents sexually assaulted other residents. It alleges residents were starved and made to strip naked outdoors as a form of punishment.
The province has yet to file a statement of defence.
"The province has received the statement of claim on this matter and is currently reviewing it in order to prepare our statement of defence. It must be filed by Jan. 29," the province said by email late Wednesday.
The suit asks for millions in damages, including $50 million in punitive damages for the representative plaintiff David Weremy, a 74-year-old former resident. He lived at the centre for 15 years after his parents sent him there at the age of 14 around 1960.
"I was raped by other boys at MDC. I was raped more than once. Boys also forced me to do other sex acts with them. I saw other boys doing bad things to each other every night, They fought each other or had sex every night," Weremy said in an affidavit filed with the suit.
Weremy lived in a dormitory with 31 other boys. Court documents state the incidents took place both in the dorm at night and during group showers, which were common practice at the institution.
"The staff knew about this. They did not care. They did nothing to stop it," Weremy stated.
He recalled one worker dismissed him with the comment "a good piece of ass will not hurt you… and to get the f--- back in the shower and shut up."
Weremy said he saw boys who were so hungry they scoured the garbage for scraps to eat. "Other boys (were) eating feces out of the toilet bowl for food," Weremy's affidavit alleges.
David Rosenfeld, the lawyer with the firm that filed the suit, said it took a lot for Weremy to speak up. He was released from the centre eventually and settled in Winnipeg, where he still lives.
Weremy is part of People First of Canada, a group that advocates for community-based support for cognitively and developmentally disabled people.
"For someone from this institution who has a developmental disability to come forward to come forward is extremely challenging. They were in this institution from a very young age. All they knew what this life. And when they got out, the government was still paying (for their care) through social assistance and people were scared of returning back. In that kind of environment, it takes a terribly courageous person like David Weremy to come forward," Rosenfeld said.
The allegations stem from negligence, the lawyer stated.
"A lot of the maltreatment was, I think, a byproduct of the overcrowding and understaffing that occurred at the institution, as well as various failures of policies that were in place," Rosenfeld said.
Such institutions used to be common in Canada, but in recent years, most have been closed down and many of them have been the subject of similar suits. Only two remain open, both of them in Manitoba.