Ontario must give Huronia survivors documents without delay

Posted on November 23, 2013 in Child & Family History

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – As part of their $35-million settlement with the Ontario government, former residents were supposed to receive their files but many have been lost.
Nov 22 2013.   Editor

As children, they were abused in the provincially operated Huronia Regional Centre, once called the Orillia Asylum for Idiots.

As adults, they won a class-action lawsuit against the province, even though the government delayed the process for so long that many died before seeing justice.

And now that the government’s settlement promises access to childhood files, the province is creating roadblocks once again, telling some it can’t locate their documents and charging others fees to do a freedom-of-information request.

Talk about re-victimizing the victims.

There’s no reason to further delay the production of these documents. Indeed, if the government can’t find files it should get outside help to track them down. And the files that have been successfully located must be released immediately, without forcing elderly former residents through a long and expensive freedom-of-information process. After everything else they’ve been though, that’s just wrong.

As NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo says, “This is appalling. The government should be transparent, and open.” She’s right. After so many government-initiated delays since the lawsuit started in 2010, it’s cruel to impede their settlement now.

The promise to produce childhood files was part of the legal agreement reached just as the case went to court in September. It allows for a maximum of $35 million in compensation to survivors — and an apology from Premier Kathleen Wynne. For many, that apology is deeply important. Wynne has said she won’t apologize until the courts approve the settlement on Dec. 3. After that, she shouldn’t delay any further. The self-described “social justice premier” should already have that speech written and memorized.

As the Star’s Tim Alamenciak reports, the government is supposed to produce roughly 65,000 documents related to former residents of Huronia. Some files are supposed to be held by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and others in Archives Ontario.

But even when the files are listed with, say, Archives Ontario, they aren’t always there. Marilyn Dolmage, a lead plaintiff whose little brother died at Huronia in 1961, says his file is supposed to be in the archives but can’t be found. “People are having a hard time figuring out what to do,” Dolmage said.

It may be understandably difficult to locate all the files, but it shouldn’t be impossible. The lead lawyer for the victims, Kirk Baert of Koskie Minsky LLP, said the government has had numerous problems trying to produce an accurate list of people who stayed at Huronia. “It’s very frustrating for people who already have enough to deal with in their life to get the runaround when all they’re trying to do is get some information on their own life,” Baert said.

The government should fix this mess. The settlement covers residents who lived there between 1945 and 2009, when the number of residents dwindled and the doors finally closed for good.

The majority are elderly people who simply want justice. Ontario’s government should not inflict additional stress on their lives. Just give them their files, apologize and let them spend their final years in peace.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2013/11/22/ontario_must_give_huronia_survivors_documents_without_delay_editorial.html >

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