Premier Kathleen Wynne’s apology to Huronia survivors offers fresh start

Posted on December 10, 2013 in Inclusion History – Opinion/Editorials – Premier Kathleen Wynne’s apology to former Huronia residents was a good start but she must also ensure the government releases their lost documents.
Dec 09 2013.   Editorial

An apology, at long last.

Abused for generations at the Huronia Regional Centre, former residents have held fast to the belief that an Ontario government apology — part of the $35-million settlement in their class-action lawsuit — would provide the solace they need to finally move forward.

Even though the province dragged out the lawsuit for three years before settling in September, Premier Kathleen Wynne has now spoken the words that should provide some of the peace Huronia’s developmentally disabled former residents have been seeking.

“Mr. Speaker, we take responsibility for the suffering of these people and their families,” Wynne said in the legislature on Monday. “I offer an apology to the men, women and children of Ontario who were failed by a model of institutional care for people with developmental disabilities. We must look in the eyes of those who have been affected, and those they leave behind, and say: We are sorry.”

It’s been a long time coming. Still, Wynne’s speech properly acknowledged the failure of successive governments to care for the children who lived in the Orillia institution between 1945 and 2009 when it closed for good. Certainly, the judge who signed off on the settlement last week regarded Wynne’s gesture as an essential element in the healing process. “The apology from the Crown is a vital and extraordinary component of the settlement,” said Justice Barbara Conway.

This was a signature moment for the former residents, many of whom suffered at the hands of caregivers and other residents. Wynne didn’t mention the sexual assaults many endured, but she did note cases of “unchecked physical and emotional abuse by some staff and residents.” Former residents carry those scars to this day. And that made for an emotional scene in the legislature.

As the Star’s Robert Benzie reports, Wynne took the rare step of visiting with the former residents in the public gallery before making her apology. When Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak spoke about the abuse of innocent lives, he became visibly upset. And New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath used the occasion to remind Wynne that her government needs to ensure the speedy — and free — release of some 65,000 documentsin resident case files. That tragic history must be remembered.

An apology cannot change the past. But hopefully, Wynne’s gesture will help heal the hurt and allow Huronia’s former residents to move on.

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