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$67.7M Settlement Against Schools that Abused Disabled Children

An Ontario, Canada court approved a $67.7 million settlement of three class action cases actions against the government of Ontario charging that state-run schools abused mentally disabled children. The case is Dolmage, McKillop and Bechard v. Her Majesty the Queen. 

The Dolmage case concerned the operation of a provincially-run residential school for people labeled with intellectual disabilities. The Huronia Regional Centre was the setting for alleged emotional, physical and psychological abuse against the class members. The McKillop case concerned the operation of another similar provincially-run residential school, the Rideau Regional Centre. The Bechard case concerned the Southwestern Regional Centre, a school much like the other two.

Huronia was founded in 1876 and closed its doors in 2009. Kirk Baert, Celeste Poltak and David Rosenfeld of Koskie Minsky LLP in Toronto represented the former students of the three schools.

No abuse prevention

The lawsuit charged that the province of Ontario breached its fiduciary, statutory and common law duties to the class through the operation of these schools. The schools allowed overcrowding and understaffing, failed to implement abuse prevention policies and deliberately exploited residents for its own benefit.

In particular, it was alleged that the schools' failure to care for and protect class members resulted in loss or injury, including psychological trauma, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and worsening of existing mental disabilities.

Despite receiving reports and recommendations, the Crown failed to take adequate steps to improve the quality of care or living at Huronia and, even if some of the recommendations were followed, those measures were inadequate and failed to meet the standard of care.

The classes were made up of students who attended the schools between the early 1960s and the late 2000s. An estimated 3,470 to 4,308 class members were alive as of 2013.

All three cases settled on the second day of the common issues trial of the Huronia case. Notably, as a part of the settlement, the government agreed that the Premier of Ontario would issue a formal apology to all of the class members.

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