Settlements Reached in Southwestern Regional and Rideau Centres

Settlements Reached in Southwestern Regional and Rideau Centres and An Update on Huronia by Marilyn Dolmage

On December 23, 2013 settlements were reached on December 23rd concerning the related class actions against Rideau and Southwestern Regional Centres.

These settlement agreements are posted at http://www.kmlaw.ca/site_documents/RIDEAUSETTLEMENTAGREEMENT_23dec13.pdf

and http://www.kmlaw.ca/site_documents/SOUTHWESTERNSETTLEMENT_23dec13.pdf

These are tentative, until the Rideau and Southwestern settlement Fairness Hearings which must take place before February 24, 2014.

I particularly congratulate David McKillop and Vici Clarke - who managed to get David's name first on the settlement agreement; we wish we could have had the foresight to have Marie Slark's and Patricia Seth's names first, to really recognize the contributions of lead plaintiffs.

 We don't know how this will affect the outcome and the timing for Huronia class members - but there will somehow be a single claims process for all three class actions, once the other two are approved by the court, and some merging of the settlement funds.

The Rideau and Southwestern class actions were certified to go back to September 1, 1963, while the Huronia action goes back to 1945.

There are some differences in terms in the Rideau and Southwestern settlement Schedules C and D.

 Here are links to some of the media coverage that tells about the Rideau and Southwestern news and history:

 

The  Huronia settlement agreement was finalized and approved by the court on December 3, 2013.

Various documents related to the settlement approval can be found at the link below:

http://www.kmlaw.ca/Case-Central/Overview/Court-Documents/?rid=99

 There were some very moving objections and personal stories voiced by class members, some of which are written in the Motion Record which can be found at the link below:

Marie Slark and Pat Seth made a statement to the judge - which I have attached, below.

People who resided at HRC and their families are now trying to access their institution files, as is promised in the settlement agreement.

This may help support them to make claims - if it helps remind people of their experiences and provides names, dates and locations. It may be that people who lived on the same units can reconnect. We are hoping that some former staff will come forward to share their memories with former residents and their families. We know that students on placement and summer students have been whistle-blowers in the past, and their efforts can finally be appreciated.

Abuse is unlikely to be recorded in these files, but those claiming compensation can check.

The only way class members' recollections can be disproved is if the file states that something absolutely did NOT occur.

I have heard from several people who obtained their files right before Christmas. On the one hand, they found it upsetting to read what happened - the words used to describe their challenges; evidence that they bore the brunt of family dysfunction; records showing severe weight loss before a loved brother died. However, they have also told me that it has been a helpful way to piece together their lives.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services was supposed to streamline the file access process - as is outlined at http://www.kmlaw.ca/Case-Central/Overview/Status-Of-Case/?rid=99

The government said this would create a simple "one window" process. However, some applicants are being asked for additional documents to prove their identities.

This remains very confusing, since the form does not state how that would be done. One person I know was asked to send a copy of his health card. Others have not been asked to do so - but we worry that many people's might have stalled.

In my effort to access my brother Robert's file, I was asked first to prove he had died and then to provide proof of our relationship. When I said I was unable to do either, all stipulations were quickly dropped.

We are seeking clarification; please check back to the website link for further updates. I would appreciate hearing what others experience.

 I see that the government has started to create an index of Huronia Regional Centre documents which will later be accessible to the public at

http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/developmental/HuroniaSchAdocsRedacted.pdf

You can search for topics on this list - shockingly, there are already 54 matches for "murder"...

It is still too early to make claims. The last we heard, there is to be a case conference of HRC lawyers on both sides, with Justice Barbara Connelly on January 15, 2014.  While she approved the HRC settlement in a very expedient manner, we've been hoping she will not start the clock ticking on our Claims Process too fast.

Once that time begins, there will still be 120 days in which to prepare claims, and that should be done very thoughtfully and carefully.

We are standing by, offering to help people across Ontario to understand how best to help people, once that time begins.

The HRC Address lists provided by government have been very incomplete and inaccurate. According to the last list, as many as 2500 HRC class members might not receive claims forms to complete. We continue to ask that lists be checked against ODSP, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transportation and death records.

The process will be even more complicated, now that addresses for people at all three institutions must be found.

As well, both sides are working out details for Claim information and the Claim Form itself. The same form is to be used in all 3 institution settlements.

ARCH Disability Law Centre has helped put information into clear language and design, but the government now must agree.

People First Ontario and Community Living Ontario provided affidavits to advise the court of this necessity.

Even though it remains possible that the claims process could be so poorly supported that settlement money reverts to government, we think there is strong political will to spend all of what has already been allocated to benefit class members.

We hope the government will no longer be our adversary, but will ensure that people get whatever help they need to make their rightful claims.

I understand that there is a team working in the Ministry of Community and Social Services on the Huronia settlement - headed by Assistant Deputy Minister Karen Chan. I guess the other settlements will be compounding their work.

They are already taking steps to improve the HRC cemetery. (and now that the Toronto Star has discovered there IS a register and a map showing who is buried where, we hope the government will honour its commitments under the Cemeteries Act to mark the graves properly.)

If any of you knows Karen Chan or members of her team, please encourage them to prove that MCSS has the interests of former institution residents truly at heart, by promoting an equitable and accessible claim process.

The Rideau and Southwestern settlements must be approved prior to February 24th; the Huronia Fee Approval Hearing is scheduled for February 24th.

At that time, we understand that there will be further opportunity for objections concerning the amount of money paid from the settlement to the legal team and to the Class proceedings fund. Since the Huronia case went first, it has borne the greatest costs.

Considerable detail about the lawyers' hours, rates and disbursements can be found at

http://www.kmlaw.ca/site_documents/080659_MotionRecordClassCounsel_26nov13.pdf

 It was a very memorable day on December 9, 2013 at Queen's Park, when Premier Kathleen Wynne made a very thoughtfully-worded statement in the Legislature to apologize for the province's "institutional model" and the harm it has done.

The Canadian Association for Community Living credits this achievement and provides a link to media coverage both in the text of the apology and a video of the Premier's remarks which can be found at the link below:

http://www.cacl.ca/news-stories/blog/ontario-apologizes-former-residents-regional-centres-people-developmental-disabili

 I especially liked the CTV photo of Premier Wynne meeting Barry Smith, while holding her hand over her heart.

People were very gratified that she came up to the Gallery to meet them, before making her speech.

NDP Leader Andrea Horvath and Conservative Leader Tim Hudak added to the apologies - and Hudak became visibly upset.

People came from a distance to hear the apology in person (for example, from L'Arche in London and from Community Living in Welland).

I hope that those not able to attend have ample opportunity to watch the video from the Legislature and the news coverage.

Please study the text of the government apology very carefully - because it seems to me that it is not just about incidents of abuse, but is a recognition that institutions are inherently abusive.

The Premier referred to the Rideau and Southwestern class actions, even before their settlements, but will apologize for them specifically at a later date, in writing.

While we had always dreamed we'd one day hear such an apology, it has been overwhelmingly sad to be reminded of so much pain and loss.

There will be other opportunities to honour people - when commemorative plaques are installed, or when people buried in the HRC cemetery are more properly honoured.

Let's remember that the Premier acknowledged that we have more work to do.

When she mentioned "boys and girls", I thought about how few of Ontario's children experience true inclusive education, and how much segregation persists… after so many years' work.

I really appreciated Vici Clarke's comments in the Toronto Star -  hoping that "the settlements don’t overshadow the need for change in the current system." She said:

There’s a big danger that people will say, ‘Those big places are closed. . . . The asylums are closed. Things are much better for people now,’ ” said Clarke. “We would hope that people don’t take from this that it’s all said and done, and everything’s fine — absolutely not.”

Marie, Pat, Jim and I made a presentation to the Ontario government Select Committee on Developmental Services on November 27, 2013

We tried to show how the old institutional model still prevails - and that change is possible only through inclusive education and direct funding.

The lessons learned from these class actions can support our future advocacy.

 An ally sent me the following message last month:

"If I were asked what is important going forward, I would say it is a commitment to prevent reinstitutionalization, particularly, as you say, of those who have emerged from institutions in the past, but also for those who are aging at home or are living on their own with the support of elderly families.  Their future is threatened by inconsistent and inadequate financial and social support.

… I was struck by something Health Minister Deb Matthews said of former ORNGE CEO Chris Mazza when she learned that he had earned income in the millions from the public purse.  She said 'We trust people in our health-care system to do the best they can for patients and to get the best value for money.' 

What struck me was that this 'trust' is not extended to people with disabilities and their families.  

Without exception, government services and supports for people with disabilities are accompanied by expensive monitoring systems of distrust that force people to prove their need over and over again.  As a result they are never able to comfortably rely upon consistent supports they need.  Whether it's home care, nursing care, passport funding, ODSP, or SSAH, support is short term and must be re-evaluated year after year.  Inconsistency leads to fear, and fear leads to the belief that congregate care is somehow the answer.  

A fundamental view that people with disabilities and their family and supporters will use the public funds they receive wisely and 'do the best they can.... to get the best value for money' must form the basis for any support system that will successfully prevent institutionalization in the future.  It is the rare few that actively abuse the public trust."

 As I looked around the Legislature on December 9th, I thought about how many other times Ontario's institution issues were revealed and debated there - and ultimately neglected.

But this time truly was different: those directly affected were present, acknowledged, faced and respected.

As Kathleen Wynne said, change requires that people with developmental disabilities no longer be seen as "other".

I want to end this long message by issuing an invitation, and asking you to pass it along.

Throughout the class action, Marie, Pat, Jim and I have felt a lot of support from my community at Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity - among its many other equity seekers.

There, we will host - not a religious service, but a gathering of people who would like to reflect on any of the class actions, share some music and stories, and connect - on Sunday January 19th from 1 pm on.

Offerings of snacks would be welcome.

I am thinking that people might want to bring their files (if they have them), pictures, any mementos.

We're thinking about how stories can also be communicated without words - through the arts. Suggestions are very welcome.

The church is right next to the Eaton Centre - just a few blocks from the Bay street bus station, near accessible subway stops, not far from GO bus and the train Station. Parking off Bay street (under the Bell building) is $6 all day Sundays.

 Marie, Pat, Jim and I thank you for your interest and support, from near and far - and wish you a wonderful new year.

Please share this message widely.

 Marilyn Dolmage

416-531-8553

 

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