Huronia survivors offered ‘one-window’ solution by province

Posted on November 26, 2013 in Inclusion Debates – news/GTA – Survivors of Huronia Regional Centre who faced difficulties trying to retrieve their case files can go to a one-stop shop for easier access.
Nov 25 2013.   By: Tim Alamenciak

The province has appointed a special co-ordinator to ensure former residents of Huronia Regional Centre have free and easy access to their case files after complaints over difficult-to-navigate information policies.

Survivors of Huronia, an Orillia institution for people with intellectual disabilities, recently won a $35-million class action lawsuit against the provincial government over allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the institution.

Since the settlement, former residents and family members have received mixed messages from the government, leading to double-billing for fees and complicated processes to access case files.

“Getting the file is kind of a part of putting their lives back together, putting the pieces back,” said Marilyn Dolmage, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, who has also been helping claimants through the process of uncovering their history.

The province announced Monday that it was rolling out a “one-window approach” to help residents and their families gain access to documents, and that all requests for case files will be free of charge regardless of how many pages are involved.

“That’s very important,” said Dolmage. “It’s hard to do this in the first place and to be rebuffed somewhere and told to go somewhere else, it can be really discouraging.”

Among the promises of the recently settled class action lawsuit against the province is a commitment to release 65,000 documents, including case files, incident reports, police reports and witness testimony, to the Archives of Ontario where they will be accessible through a freedom of information act request.

Those who stayed at the institution were subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse and many who died there were buried in unmarked or numbered graves.

The province, in its statement of defence, denied that abuse, mistreatment or assault occurred at the facility.

Many residents are now beginning to retrieve their case files as a way of preparing to make a claim.

Previously, the case files were split between the Archives of Ontario and the Ministry of Community and Social Services, depending on the date of discharge or death. Some residents found that the publicly advertised date ranges were inaccurate and they were told by the archives to resubmit their application to the ministry.

Dolmage experienced that when trying to retrieve her brother’s case file. He died at the institution in 1961, meaning his file should be in the collection housed at the archives, but Dolmage was told instead to go to the MCSS where she was charged another $5.

That process has since changed. Now all inquiries are being directed to Cate Parker, a co-ordinator in the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ freedom of information office who will ensure the residents get their files regardless of where it is located.

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