TORONTO – A lawsuit against the Ontario government arising from alleged sexual and physical abuse at the province’s now-defunct training schools has been certified as a class action.
The provincial government did not oppose certification of the suit, launched by Kirk Keeping, a man who alleges he was badly abused at one of the schools.
“This is an important milestone for the boys and girls from the training schools,” Keeping said in a statement. “We have all lived with this for years and we are glad this case is moving forward.”
The $600-million claim, which has not been proven, takes in 13 of the facilities on behalf of “all persons who were alive as at Dec. 8, 2015, who resided at any of the training schools between Jan. 1, 1953, and April 2, 1984, during the time periods set out for each facility,” according to the certification order from Superior Court Justice Danial Newton in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Keeping, in his mid-60s, alleges the schools were festering cesspools of sexual, physical and psychological abuse perpetrated by unsupervised and unqualified staff on hapless kids.
“The training schools contained a toxic environment in which degrading and humiliating treatment of children in the Crown’s care was the norm,” the claim states. “Physical, sexual and psychological abuse was rampant, and residents of training schools were systematically denied their dignity and basic human rights.”
Newton set out six questions to be answered at trial. They include whether Ontario failed to protect the children and youth from “actionable” mental or physical harm and whether the province is liable for any harms done them.
Toronto-based lawyer Jonathan Ptak said about 21,000 people are survivors of the schools.
“We are pleased that the case now has been certified as a class proceeding, so that we can now litigate this case on the merits,” Ptak said in a statement.
The certification decision obviates the need for a two-day hearing that had been scheduled for next week.
The reform schools for boys and girls aged eight to 16 operated between 1931 until they were shut down in 1984. Those sentenced to the facilities were children found begging, runaways, truants, those deemed “incorrigible,” those convicted of petty offences, or those who, for various reasons, had inadequate adult supervision.
While the idea was to provide support, correction and vocational training, the claim alleges the reality was far more sinister – one of “fear intimidation and brutality.”
Staff forced children to beat up on other children or meted out physical punishment themselves. Youth were thrown into solitary confinement in shackles, not allowed to go to the washroom, were forced to scrub floors with toothbrushes or sleep on floors, and were forced into sexual acts, according to the claim.
Attempting to report the abuse would lead to retaliation, the claim alleges.
One survivor, Rick Brown, has told The Canadian Press that he believes a supervisor at the Brookside training school in Cobourg, Ont., may have beaten one of his young class mates James Forbes to death in 1963. Police recently said they were looking at opening an investigation.
The suit seeks $500 million in general damages and another $100 million in punitive damages, alleging the province was negligent, failed in the expected standard of care, and breached its duty toward its young charges.
According to a report from former Quebec judge Fred Kaufman in 2002, Ontario reached settlements with survivors of three schools – St. Joseph’s, St. John’s and Grandview – decades ago. Former premier Dalton McGuinty formally apologized to some of those students in 2004.
The new suit seeks to represent those who attended schools in places such as Oakville, Galt, Lindsay, Port Bolster, Bowmanville, Simcoe, Hagersville and Guelph.
© 2018 The Canadian Press