Forced Sterilization of Romani Women

“I decided to come out with my story so that it doesn’t happen to other women, to our children, to our grandchildren. So that they never find themselves in the situation I am in today.”

Elena Gorolova, victim of forced sterilization, interview for Romedia’s I’m a Roma Woman campaign

Elena Gorolova

Between 1971 and 1991 in Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic and Slovakia, the “reduction of the Roma population” through surgical sterilization, performed without the knowledge of the women themselves, was a widespread governmental practice. The sterilization would be performed on Romani women without their knowledge during Caesarean sections or abortions. Some of the victims claim that they were made to sign documents without understanding their content. By signing these documents, they involuntarily authorized the hospital to sterilize them. In exchange, they sometimes were offered financial compensation or material benefits like furniture from Social Services – though it was not explicitly stated what this compensation was for. The justification for sterilization practices according to the stakeholders was “high, unhealthy” reproduction.

They sterilized thousands of Roma women in this way. The Czech ombudsman estimated that more than 90,000 women from former Czechoslovakia became infertile as a consequence of such interventions. If the evidence for such treatments performed in the past is not alarming enough, there seems to be proof that this practice was not only common during the Communist era: there are women reporting the same crime in post-Communist times as well, even after Czechoslovakia split into Czech Republic and Slovakia. In what is today Slovakia, 1000 Roma women and girls were sterilized annually in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the practice of forced sterilization in this region of Europe seems to persist to some extent, with cases emerging in other countries as well.

The European Roma Rights Centre pointed at two cases of Romani women who were sterilized in Hungary without their consent. One of them relates back to 2001, when a young woman, A.S. accused a hospital for sterilizing her without her knowledge. Following eight years of intensive lobbying, with several organizations started pressuring the government, in 2009 the Hungarian state compensated A.S. The court acknowledged that the surgery was performed without her knowledge, but it also claimed that the surgery did not harm A.S.’s reproductive capacity as the sterilization was purportedly “reversible”. The second case taken up by ERRC is still in process, as it was rejected in the first instance by the Hungarian Court.[1]

The victims of forced sterilization have begun to speak out against these crimes by creating a movement to stop forced sterilization and bring justice to the victims in the Czech Republic as well. Czech Romani activist Elena Gorolova was one of those who started the movement by founding Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization. She is a victim too, sterilized while having her second child in 1990. Mrs Gorolova, like many other Romani women, was not able to file a civil lawsuit because the deadline for seeking legal action had already expired. Nevertheless, she tried to pursue legal justice with other women, moving her case from the local to the national and international level. They organized demonstrations, such as the one in Ostrava in front of the hospital infamous for sterilizing Romani women in large numbers. Elena is one of the eighty-seven women who sent their complaints to the Czech ombudsman, reporting forced sterilization. In December 2005, in his final statement on the issue, the ombudsman declared that sterilizations performed on Romani women are illegal.[2]

The story of Elena and the others is not the first policy of compulsory sterilization in history. The first was documented in the US in the beginning of the 20th century. African-American women were sterilized against their will, many of them without their knowledge, while they were in a hospital for other reasons or sometimes even while serving a prison sentence. More than 65,000 individuals were sterilized in 33 states in the framework of compulsory sterilization programs. This US policy was followed by several other countries, including Canada, Russia and Germany, that approved compulsory sterilization as a governmental practice.

In the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, many lawsuits ended with the victory of the victims of sterilization. However, most of the pursuers kept their identity secret or the outcome of the case was not made public for other reasons. Elena Ferencikova was the first Roma women to sue the Czech Health Authority in 2005 for the damages she suffered when they sterilized her at the age of only nineteen.[3] The court didn’t decide on financial compensation but the hospital where they performed the intervention apologized for sterilizing Elena without her agreement, damaging her future and her harming her status in her community. At the time of the intervention, she was a young bride, with the dream of having a big family.

Until the most recent past, over 87 Romani women filed an official complaint against the Czech health authority The first action on the government’s behalf was an apology in 2009 during a press conference, followed by the report from the Czech Ombudsman about the illegality of the practice in 2005.[4]

Among the individual cases which ended in favor of the victims is that of Iveta Červeňáková who sued the Czech Republic for sterilizing her about fourteen years ago. Her case was in front of the Ostrava Regional Court for one million Czech crowns compensation, since she never requested the surgery. After losing the case, the hospital appealed to the High Court in Olomouc, claiming that her right for financial compensation expired and she can only win an apology. But their statement was not accepted and the Czech Supreme Court decided that Ms Červeňáková still has the right for financial compensation. The case was concluded with an out of court settlement between the hospital and the victim. The details are confidential between the two parties. [5]

The above case seems to be rather typical: the content of out of court settlements is not made public and the reason that women gained mere apologies from the hospitals is usually due to an allegedly expired right for financial compensation. On the other hand, there are cases whose outcome was made public, like one from 2012: the court made the decision that the government was at fault and the woman in question should receive a compensation of EUR 10,000.[6]

Looking at several cases of forced sterilization, a serious infringement of human rights is what should be emphasized, as reflected also by the recommendations from the NGOs’ side, the ERRC and the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, who all stress the need for developing a compensation mechanism for all victims of sterilization. A well-functioning mechanism is needed since not all victims are literate enough, have the financial sources, or the knowledge to ask for justice in court. Majority of Czech ministers agreed and a mechanism should be developed by the end of 2013, as part of the already existing legal framework. However, there is a concern that many of the affected women will still be excluded from the opportunity to gain justice.[7]

To add a personal perspective on the issues at stake, I see many reasons justify the need for the government to develop a compensation mechanism. For instance, trends show they are losing cases on the international level. Developing such a mechanism would mean that the cases would remain on the local or national level. Another reason could be financial: whatever compensation mechanism the government develops, the amount of compensation is not equivalent to the cases decided by the European Court of Human Rights. The third reason could be that authorities are trying to escape the negative backlash caused by not assuming responsibility and not criminalizing this governmental practice. In conclusion, the development of a compensation mechanism could keep “embarrassing” cases from reaching international publicity, which could lead to public ignorance if no one realizes how many actual victims there are and in what circumstances these crimes happened.

Of course, one could also argue that after years of injustice affecting hundreds of women, the fact that some women will receive justice might pave the way for others. Still, the question must be asked: is this enough? Is compensation enough? I am concerned that whatever compensation they eventually receive, the truly important development would be if governments themselves are seriously pushed to criminalize forced sterilization: only this could prevent these horrible stories from repeating themselves.

While human rights can be violated by individuals or by institutions, they can only be defended by institutions. The European Court of Human Rights does not deal with single individuals who have committed crimes. Rather, it focuses on why the government in question could not take action against what happened. But where are the doctors, politicians and all the people who personally contributed to or carried out such surgeries, and when they are going to take responsibility for their actions? In order to take action against this human rights violation, blaming the Communist regime is not enough. The practice continues today and forcibly sterilized Romani women are still a long way from receiving true justice.

Written by: Galya Stoyanova, Romani intern at Romedia Foundation

[1] Albert, Gwendolyn. “Forced Sterilization and Romani Women’s Resistance in Central Europe.” Forced Sterilization and Romani Women’s Resistance in Central Europe. N.p., 2011. <http://popdev.hampshire.edu/sites/popdev/files/uploads/u1149/DT_71_Albert.pdf&gt;.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Holt, Ed. Roma women reveal that forced sterilization remains. N.p., 12 Mar. 2005. Web. <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)71063-1/fulltext&gt;.

[4] Decade of Roma Inclusion . Czech Prime Minister Apologizes to Victims of Coercive Sterilization. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.romadecade.org/czech_prime_minister_apologizes_to_victims_of_coercive_sterilization&gt;.

[5] Stop Torture in Healthcare. <http://www.stoptortureinhealthcare.org/news-and-resources/forced-sterilization/czech-hospital-pays-romani-woman-forcibly-sterilized-14-year&gt;

[6] ROMEA. Czech Gov. compensates another woman over illegal sterilization. N.p., 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.romea.cz/en/news/czech/czech-govt-compensates-another-woman-over-illegal-sterilization#&gt;.

[7] Open Society Foundations. Against her will – Forced and coerced sterilization of women worldwide.

<http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/against-her-will-20111003.pdf&gt;

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We Were Children

If you missed the recent broadcast of We Were Children you can still watch the full movie online. It will be available for viewing until April 23.

We Were Children

We Were Children is a 2012 Canadian documentary film about the experiences of First Nations children in the Canadian Indian residential school system. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada. For over 130 years, Canada’s First Nations children were legally required to attend Government-funded schools run by various orders of the Christian faith. ‘We Were Children’ is based on the testimony of two survivors.

A 24 hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is posted at the beginning of the film offering assistant to anyone who is distressed by the broadcast: 1-866-925-4419

The film was shot in Manitoba, in Winnipeg, St-Pierre-Jolys and at the former Portage residential school, now the Rufus Prince building, in Portage la Prairie. It was produced by Kyle Irving for Eagle Vision, Loren Mawhinney for eOne Television, and produced and executive produced by David Christensen for the National Film Board of Canada. The executive producer for the Eagle Vision was Lisa Meeches, whose parents and older siblings were sent to residential schools.

Meeches, who spent over seven years travelling across Canada to collect residential school survivors’ stories for the Government of Canada, has stated that the idea for the film originated from a discussion she’d had at the Banff World Media Festival.[6] It was Meeches who approached director Wolochatiuk with the project. CBC Manitoba reporter Sheila North Wilson assisted the production by translating material in the script from English to Cree.
We Were Children premiered on October 2, 2012 at the Vancouver International Film Festival, followed by a screening at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto on October 18. It was broadcast on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in March 2013, followed by a DVD release from the National Film Board of Canada on April 12, 2013. (background information taken from the wikipedia article written on the film).

Today, March 27, 2014 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada begins hearings at the Shaw Conference Centre. The hearings are open to the public and attendance is encouraged. As the TRC Mandate (1998) stated, it is not only the sincere “acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people” but also the community’s step for “continued healing” and “[paving] [of] the way for reconciliation” that is the overall aim of testimonies through the the context of the TRC.

The program for the TRC in Edmonton can be found here:http://www.trc.ca/websites/alberta/index.php?p=766

NO REGISTRATION NEEDED TO ATTEND.
Those wishing to provide a statement to the Commission may register onsite during the event.

CAN’T COME? The Alberta National Event will be livestreamed at http://www.trc.ca.

Truth & Reconciliation Commission – Edmonton March 27 – 30, 2014

For 116 years, thousands of Aboriginal children in Alberta were sent to Indian Residential Schools funded by the federal government and run by the churches. They were taken from their families and communities in order to be stripped of language, cultural identity and traditions.

Canada’s attempt to wipe out Aboriginal cultures failed. But it left an urgent need for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

There were more Indian Residential Schools in Alberta than in any other province. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is holding its Alberta National Event in Edmonton this year.

Come and share your truth about the schools and their legacy. Witness and celebrate the resilience of Aboriginal cultures.
(excerpt from TRC.ca)

Alberta National Event – March 27 – 30, 2014 will be held in Edmonton at the Shaw Conference Centre 9797 Jasper Avenue. No registration needed to attend. Those wishing to provide a statement to the Commission may register onsite during the event.

You can download the program click here

On Thursday March 20 from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm at the University of Alberta, Lister Centre, Maple Leaf Room
Understanding the TRC: Exploring Reconciliation, Intergenerational Trauma, and Indigenous Resistance featuring:

Commissioner Dr. Wilton Littlechild
Dr. Rebecca Sockbeson
Dr. Ian Mosby
James Daschuk
Dr. Keavy Martin
Tanya Kappo
Moderated by Jodi Stonehouse

Reception 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm – Tea, bannock and berries. Event is free.

Gala Reading featuring:
Marilyn Dumont
Daniel Heath Justice
Eden Robinson
Gregory Scofield
Anna Marie Sewell
Richard Van Camp

Friday, March 21 from 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm in Humanities Centre L-1 (111th Street and Saskatchewan Drive)
Giveaways. Books for sale. Free Admission

You find this information and links to campus maps here

Restrictive laws silences grieving parents

Publication ban prohibits naming deceased children, shields Alberta government from scrutiny.
Alberta’s ban on publicizing the names and photos of children who die in provincial care is one of the most restrictive in the country, robbing grieving families of their ability to raise concerns in public about the deaths and sheltering government officials from scrutiny.

About 10 children die in care in Alberta every year, but because of a law that prevents their names and photographs — and those of parents or guardians — from being publicized, the public is denied the right to know who they are and assess whether their deaths could have been prevented.

Basic information about the 145 children who died in care in Alberta between 1999 and 2013 was only released to the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald after a four-year legal battle. Still, we can only tell you the names of two of the 145. That’s because their parents applied in court to have the publication ban lifted — a step all parents must take if they wish to speak out about the deaths of their children.

Velvet Martin, who went through the court process, said the ban is evil and “the nemesis of justice.”

“They have failed the child in the utmost way possible and now they are stealing their identity — the only thing they have left,” said Martin, whose daughter Samantha died after being in care. “It’s bad enough to lose a child, but to have it covered up is just wrong and I won’t stand for it.”

With scant information on child death cases, Albertans are left to trust that the government will investigate and correct any systemic problems, yet often the same people responsible for supervising a case lead the review.

The result of the legislation is a blanket of confidentiality over the child welfare system.

Child welfare agencies won’t talk to the media. Several didn’t respond to repeated requests for information about how they protect children and one, citing the province’s privacy act, referred calls to the Ministry of Human Services.

People who work inside the system are barred from speaking publicly about their experiences; even those who spoke on condition of anonymity were afraid they’d lose their jobs.

Government officials argue the ban is necessary to protect the privacy of children and their families; in some cases, a child who dies might have siblings who are also in government care. Children in care are some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens, and provincial authorities feel strongly about trying to protect them.

“I think there is always a balance of values that you have to take into account,” said Human Services Minister Dave Hancock. “One of the values obviously is an open and transparent process so that people can know and understand what is happening and know that things are being handled in an appropriate fashion. The other value is you don’t want to intrude in the personal lives of families any more than necessary, particularly in circumstances like that where they have already suffered significant tragedy.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, in response to the Journal-Herald investigation, Hancock said that the issue of where that line should be drawn will be discussed at a roundtable of MLAs and experts scheduled for January. Hancock announced the roundtable on Tuesday.

The Alberta College of Social Workers supports the principle of the ban for the benefit of the family and any siblings.

“It could cause some definite hardship for the family,” said spokeswoman Lori Sigurdson. “They could be ostracized in the community. It could be a shame thing. Their relationship with the ministry and the worker who is working with them could become antagonistic or more difficult because they feel they have betrayed them.”

Hancock said the bodies that review deaths — including the child and youth advocate, the quality assurance council and the fatality inquiry review board — provide the public with appropriate access to information. He said it’s “not necessarily useful to publish a name and face just for the prurient interest of the opposition or others.”

However, in an interview this month, Hancock admitted he didn’t realize the law went so far as to prohibit parents from talking about their children and releasing their names to the media, and said he would look into it.

“I think families for the most part need to be able to heal and need to have the discussions that they need to heal,” he said.

That’s the argument made by the family of a 21-month-old aboriginal baby who died in a foster home in 2010.

“It is ridiculous. We want to tell our story and we can’t,” the girl’s aunt said. “We’re suffering in silence here.”

A Morinville foster mother has been charged with second-degree murder, but the case has not yet gone to trial. It could be years before the facts of the case and what went wrong are revealed — if ever.

Choking back tears, the aunt said problems with the system must be scrutinized if similar deaths are to be avoided. “Every couple of years, another child is dying in care, and it is usually a native kid,” she said.

Martin, the mother who had the ban lifted on her daughter’s name, said almost every family she has met wants to speak out, but they often don’t know their rights and can’t afford to seek legal advice.

“A lot of people don’t have the fortitude, they don’t have the education, the ability, to come forward,” said Martin, a spokeswoman for a national advocacy group called Protecting Canadian Children.

In her case, she was able to lobby for a fatality inquiry. During that process, she found out that while Samantha’s caseworker had assured her that the girl — who had a number of medical conditions — was getting exceptional care, the caseworker hadn’t seen her for 14 months, nor had she been examined by a doctor in three years.

“I was naive and under the impression that children’s services was doing an internal investigation and were actually going to do something other than cover their ass,” she said. “It was a hard lesson for me.”

Like Martin, Jamie Sullivan went to court to lift the ban on her daughter Delonna’s name — but she’s angry she had to. “If you want to arrest me for talking about my daughter, then arrest me,” she said. “You can’t take anything more from me than you have already. … And I’m not going to have somebody telling me I can’t show her picture. That’s just not right.”

The publication ban law is part of Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. It stipulates that “no person shall publish the name or a photograph of a child or of the child’s parent or guardian in a manner that reveals that the child is receiving or has received intervention services.” The penalty is a maximum $10,000 fine or up to six months in jail.

Prior to legislative changes in 2004, the ban didn’t exist. A 13-member task force, chaired by Calgary MLA Harvey Cenaiko and made up entirely of Conservative MLAs and child welfare officials, had recommended the change to government. Cenaiko told MLAs the new provisions were drafted to align with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. No mention was made that the ban remained in place after a child died.

Provincial privacy commissioner Jill Clayton, who wasn’t in office when the law was amended, said she can’t find any record of the government consulting the office for advice or guidance on the issue.

Across Canada, most provinces ban the publication of names of children who are in care or receiving services from the government, but lift the ban or decline to enforce it when one of those children die. Only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec have bans similar to Alberta’s, and officials say Quebec currently does not enforce the ban when a child dies.

But in Alberta, despite the minister’s promise to review the ban, the government continues to enforce it.

This month, Alberta’s children services director refused a request from the Journal and Herald to lift the ban on the name of a Samson Cree baby, opposing an application that was supported with affidavits from both the child’s parents.

Being able to publish the names, photographs and personal stories of children who die in care are large factors in bringing about change, experts say. If parents are muzzled, there is no one else to speak for the children, said Robert Fellmeth, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Institute in the U.S.

“These children have no lobby,” said Fellmouth, a professor of public interest law at the University of San Diego. “They have no campaign contributions. They don’t vote. Their sole asset is democracy, and public sympathy and concern, and disclosure. That’s the sole political card they have.”

Many laws to protect children are named after child victims, he noted. The Amber Alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996, while Chelsea’s Law in California, which increases penalties and monitoring of sexual offenders, was named after 17-year-old rape-murder victim Chelsea King.

In Canada, there’s the Jordan Principle that stipulates that care be provided for children when they need it and decisions about who is responsible for paying for it be made later. It is named after a five-year-old Manitoba Cree child named Jordan River Anderson, who died in hospital while federal and provincial authorities bickered over who was responsible for his home care.

And in other provinces, the deaths of children in care make headlines. In Manitoba, a public inquiry has put the 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair under the microscope; in Saskatchewan, RCMP are investigating the alleged 2013 murder of six-year-old Lee Bonneau by another child under the age of 12; and in Ontario, an inquiry has been probing the case of five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, who died in 2002 after years of mistreatment.

By comparison, in Alberta, when the child and youth advocate writes reports about flaws in the system, he has to make up names for the children. In July, he released “Remembering Brian,” and just last week he issued “Kamil: An Immigrant Youth’s Struggle.” Both are pseudonyms.

Even when a death of a child in care is examined at a fatality inquiry in Alberta, the children and parents are identified only by initials. Provincial court Judge Leonard Mandamin balked at this practice in an August 2007 fatality inquiry report into the suicide of a 16-year-old Tsuu T’ina boy. “The use of initials dehumanizes the tragic death of this young person,” he wrote.

University of Manitoba professor Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, wonders who the publication law is designed to protect.

“My overarching concern is that privacy is being used as a smokescreen to conceal potential wrongdoing and to prevent the public from getting an accurate picture of problems that may turn out to be systemic,” he said. “Privacy considerations are important, but they aren’t absolute.”

Publication bans by province

British Columbia: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published provided information comes from family or other sources.

Alberta: It is illegal to publish names or photos of children who die in care without a court order lifting the ban.

Saskatchewan: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published provided information comes from family.

Manitoba: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published provided information comes from family.

Ontario: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published without restriction.

Quebec: It is illegal to publish the name and photo of a child who dies in care, but the law is not enforced.

New Brunswick: It is illegal to publish the name of a child who dies in care.

Nova Scotia: It is illegal to publish the name of a child who dies in care.

Prince Edward Island: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published.

Newfoundland and Labrador: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published if information comes from family or other sources.

BY DARCY HENTON AND KAREN KLEISS, CALGARY HERALD AND EDMONTON JOURNAL

Story can be found online here: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Restrictive+silences+grieving+parents/9221675/story.html

Former residents settle Huronia lawsuit

The Huronia Regional Centre – this case has settled; there will not be a trail. To read the settlement agreement go to: http://www.kmlaw.ca/site_documents/080659_SettlementAgreement_17sep13.pdf

Members of the lawsuit looking for information can call 1-866-777-6311, or email huroniaclassaction@kmlaw.ca

~The History~

The Huronia Regional Centre located in Orilla, Ontario, was operated by the Ontario government from 1876 to March 31, 2009. It was the first institution of its kind in Ontario and was designed to house individuals who were deemed to have cognitive and other disabilities. Individuals could be admitted by parents and guardians, from training schools, or through the Children’s Aid Society.
At its peak, Huronia’s population exceeded 2,500 people. By the mid 1970s, the Ontario government operated 16 such facilities across the province.
When Huronia opened, there were no community services and supports available for individuals with developmental disabilities. Huronia was one of the last three facilities of its kind in Ontario, along with the Southwestern Regional Centre in Chatham-Kent and the Rideau Regional Centre I Smiths Falls, all of which closed in 2009.
~The Class Action~
Two former residents of the facility, assisted by their litigation guardians, are proceeding with a class action against the Ontario government to seek justice and compensation for severe abuse they and other class members suffered while residing in Huronia.
On July 30, 2010 the Ontario Superior Court of Justice certified this lawsuit as a class action for residents living at Huronia between 1945 and 2009 and other family members. The claim alleges that the Ontario government was negligent and breached its fiduciary duties to the residents and their families in the operation, control, and management of Huronia.

It is alleged that residents of Huronia suffered inhumane treatment and abuse at the hands of some of the staff. The allegations include severe mental and physical punishments for “acting out”, rooms were unnecessarily locked creating a prison-like environment, unnecessarily medicating the residents, residents were often not bathed, and forced to work without pay.

The class action will seek to provide evidence that officials knew about the abuse taking place but did not take the required action to stop it. Examples of such evidence include:

  • A 1971 report by Walter B. Williston, which was sponsored by the Ministry of Health, examined the conditions of Huronia. The report concluded that severe abuse and inadequate facilities were present at Huronia.
  • A 1960 article by Pierre Berton entitled, “What’s Wrong at Orillia – Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, which describes what he called “atrocities” at Huronia, including extreme overcrowding and physical and emotional abuse. This article ultimately led to Parliamentary debate.
  • A 1973 report by Robert Welch, Secretary for Social Development, calling for the creation of appropriate residential homes in the community to facilitate deinstitutionalization.
  • In 1976, a report authored for the Minister of Community and Social Services known as the “Willard Report” found serious allegations about the administration at Huronia. The report made several recommendations.
  • Affidavits by both plaintiffs, corroborated by their litigation guardians, chronicling the abuse each experienced while residing at Huronia.
  • Affidavits from former staff and family members of residents.

Since 1876 thousands of people in Ontario have resided in facilities like Huronia.  There have been many accounts of abuse taking place at these facilities, however little has been done to help the victims.

The victims of these abuses are entitled to adequate compensation and an acknowledgement from the Ontario government that it failed to live up to its obligations to care for these vulnerable individuals.

The Representative Plaintiffs

Patricia was admitted to Huronia at the age of six in 1964. At the time of her admission , Patricia was labelled as “developmentally challenged”. Everything in her life was dictated by Huronia staff.  Patricia recalls being repeatedly abused and punished – hit by a fly swatter or radiator brush, and held upside down in ice cold water. She was also administered medication to pacify her when she was found to be “speaking out”. Patricia was unable to report the abuse she experienced or saw at Huronia for fear of repercussion and threat of increased abuse. Patricia is now 52 years of age and living independently with assistance from the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Marie was admitted to Huronia at the age of seven in 1961. At the time of her admission, like Patricia, Marie was labelled as “developmentally challenged”. While at Huronia, her life was regimented and controlled and she was placed on medication to pacify her for “acting out”. At 16 she was placed into an “approved home” off the grounds of Huronia (but still operated by Huronia) where she was threatened, teased and physically and sexually abused. She did not report this, because she feared being returned to the centre. Marie lives in her own apartment   and supports herself.

Both women understand that their greatest obstacle has not been their disabilities, but the harm they experienced through institutionalization. They want this legal action to help others and ensure similar systemic abuse can never happen again.

The Litigation Guardians

To assist Patricia and Marie with this complex litigation, Marilyn Dolmage, a former social worker at Huronia, and her husband, Jim Dolmage, have agreed to act as Marie and Patricia’s litigation guardians respectively. The Dolmages have been friends with Marie and Patricia for many years. Both Marilyn and Jim have worked alongside people with disabilities in the past and are well informed in this area.

Huronia Trial Management Timetable:

(see the original source for links to many of these original documents)

September 17, 2013: This case has settled; there will not be a trial.

Important Dates ( these dates have links to original documents in the online source, see link at the end)

September 17, 2013 – This case has settled; there will not be a trial.

June 7, 2013 – An article written by Carol Goar entitled “Ugly secret of Ontario psychiatric hospitals won’t stay hidden,” has been published in the Toronto Star.

June 3, 2013 – The World this Weekend (CBC), June 2nd, Sunday edition,  featured a piece on the Huronia Class Action.

May 30, 2013 –  The survivors of the Huronia Regional Centre Patricia Seth and Marie Slark, along with their Litigation Guardians Marilyn and Jim Dolmage and legal counsel held a press conference today at Queen’s Park.

May 27, 2013 – The parties have exchanged responding expert reports in preparation for trial.

April 2, 2013 – The parties have exchanged expert reports in preparation for trial and in accordance with the trial timetable.

February 8, 2013 – Master Glustein presided over the Plaintiff’s motion to compel the Defendant to answer refusals made on the examination for discovery of Mr. Brian Low. Master Glustein ordered the Defendant to answer a number of questions that it had previously refused.

December 18, 2012 – A motion in this action will be heard by the Court on February 8, 2013. The motion relates to refusals made on examinations for discovery and documentary productions issues. The Plaintiff is seeking an Order from the Court that the Crown answer certain questions and produce further documents.

October 10, 2012 – In the process of answering undertakings and written questions for discovery, the Defendant advised that it had located a significant source of further documents to be produced.  The production of documents in this action was to have been completed February 29, 2012.  The Defendant has already produced over 50,000 documents to date.  In a case conference with the Honourable Justice Archibald, the Defendant sought and were granted an extension of time for certain aspects of the previous timetable (from March 7, 2012).  The trial of this action is still scheduled for September 2013.

October 1, 2012 – This action continues to proceed towards trial scheduled for the Fall of 2013.  The Plaintiffs have delivered a Request to Admit to the Defendant asking them to admit certain facts in advance of trial.  The Defendant’s responses are due November 1, 2012.

April 25, 2012 – The Plaintiffs completed three days of examinations for discovery of the Defendant between April 23-25, 2012.  The action continues towards trial which is scheduled for September 2013.  Expert reports, requests to admit, answers to questions taken at examinations for discovery are all expected to be completed in the coming months.

March 8, 2012 – A revised timetable has been set by the Honourable Justice Archibald that provides for this action to proceed to trial September 30, 2013. The next step in this proceeding is for the Plaintiff to complete the examinations for discovery of the Defendant, which are set to be completed by May 15, 2012.

February 24, 2012 – The Plaintiffs completed the first 4 days of examinations for discovery of the Defendant.  A further 5 days of examinations are tentatively scheduled for April 2012.

February 7, 2012 – Oral discoveries (examinations) of a representative of the Defendant will take place February 21-24, 2012.

December 23, 2011 – The Defendant delivered another set of documents as part of its ongoing obligations. The Defendant has now produced over 50,000 documents. Examinations for discovery of the Defendant are scheduled to take place in mid-February 2012.

December 2, 2011 – The Defendant delivered what is believed to be the last set of documents for the Plaintiffs’ review, bringing the total number of documents delivered to approximately 48,000.  Examinations for discovery of the Defendant is scheduled to take place in mid-February 2013.

November 17, 2011 – A trial date has been set for this action for a period of 10 weeks beginning September 30, 2013.

October 14, 2011 – The parties reached an agreement with respect to the redactions in the first two sets of documents produced by the Defendant, which averted the Plaintiffs’ motion which was scheduled for October 5, 2011.  The Defendant has produced un-redacted copies of most of the documents it previously redacted.  The Defendant has also produced its 3rd and 4th sets of documents, which are being reviewed by the Plaintiffs.

August 29, 2011 – As a result of concern regarding the aging class  members, the Plaintiffs filed a motion to fix a trial date at the  earliest practical convenience.  The Plaintiffs believe that the age of  the class members warrants a speedy pursuit to trial.  While no date is  set for the motion it is expected to be heard shortly.

August 8, 2011 – the Defendant produced its second set of documents  (approximately 4,000 documents).  The Plaintiffs have noted similar  redactions in the documents provided as with the documents provided  previously.   The Plaintiff intends on pursuing such redactions in the  motion noted below.

August 5, 2011 – After receiving the first set of documents from the defendant (approximately 2,000 documents) it was apparent to the Plaintiffs that the Defendant redacted (blacked out) information on a number of documents they produced.  Such information redacted included  names of ministerial employees and potential witnesses, information relating to assaults on residents, admissions information, and in other cases extensive portions of a document were redacted such that the Plaintiffs could not know what information was being withheld.   It is the Plaintiffs’ position that the Defendant inappropriately redacted such documents.  The Plaintiffs are concerned that further production from the Defendant will include similar redactions.   Accordingly the Plaintiffs filed a motion today seeking the removal of such redactions from the documents already produced and those the Defendant has yet to produce.  While no date is set for the motion it is expected to be heard shortly.

Additional information on the Huronia Regional Centre class action can be found on the Koskie Minsky  LLP website here.  Legal Counsel Koskie Minsky LLP – See more at: http://www.institutionalsurvivors.com/background/huronia/#sthash.ctTmZn4L.dpuf

– See more at: http://www.institutionalsurvivors.com/background/huronia/#sthash.ctTmZn4L.dpuf

Source: http://www.institutionalsurvivors.com/background/huronia/

The story in The Star, September 17, 2013: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/09/17/former_residents_settle_huronia_lawsuit_for_35m.html

Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenic Patterns

An article by Professor Alex Stern, Living Archives Team Member, has been released today in The Huffington Post. The article, Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break With California’s Long Eugenic Patterns, reveals that at least 148 female prisoners in 2 California institutions were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. Tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.  Professor Stern’s work points to a discernible racial bias in the state’s sterilization and eugenics programs.

Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) published on July 7th a detailed expose’ of unauthorized sterilizations of unwilling women in California prisons. Johnson’s excellent report brought international attention to a scandal that some activists and researchers have at least partially documented. It is important to note that, as the CIR report says, these sterilizations were illegal: Federal and state laws ban inmate sterilizations if federal funds are used, reflecting concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply. California used state funds instead, but since 1994, the procedure has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis. Yet no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such restricted surgeries….

How could this happen?

Governor Gray Davis apologized in 2003 for California’s twentieth-century sterilizations, 20,000  procedures carried out under an explicitly eugenic law. He did so  quietly, via press release, and with no attempt to discover or  compensate the victims. (Recognized experts on American eugenics were  disappointed at the time: Paul Lombardo called it “premature” and Alexandra Minna Stern said it was “preemptive.”) Now his statement seems like a sham. The  fault is no longer the law, it’s the failure to follow the law.

North Carolina is still struggling to pass a budget that includes compensation for its victims of eugenic sterilization.  California has barely started the process of coming to terms with its  troubled history.

The California state prison system is overcrowded — Governor Jerry Brown is appealing a federal court order to release inmates — and conditions are so bad that 30,000 are on  hunger strike. If this report about sterilization helps to usher in a  period of genuine reform, that would be wonderful.

We would still need to educate all too many people, inside and  outside the jail system, about the moral and practical harm of modern  eugenics. Based on some of the remarks by state officials that Johnson  reported, and on some of the comments on coverage of his investigation,  people slide right back into eugenic ways of thinking.

Justice Now is an organization that works with women in prison. Their website has links to the CIR  reports and videos.

Professor Stern’s article in the Huffington Post raises awareness about eugenic practices and calls for a new era of human rights and the protection of vulnerable populations. Tony Platt co-authored the post. The original article can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-stern/sterilization-california-prisons_b_3631287.html

Nutritional Experiments on Aboriginal Peoples in the News

As a follow-up to the previous post, “Hungry aboriginal kids, adults were subject of nutritional experiments“, here is some coverage of the events through the Toronto Star and CBC.  Article highlights are as follows.

After World War II, the Canadian government subjected aboriginal children and adults to nutritional experiments without their consent.  Many of these experiments were conducted in order to gather information about what the human body needs in terms of vitamins and nutrition.  It resulted in lack of dental care for Aboriginal peoples as well, in order to use gum health as an undistorted measuring tool for scientists (Livingstone, Toronto Star).

Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, states in the Toronto Star that

“This discovery, it’s indicative of the attitude toward aboriginals,” Sinclair said. “They thought aboriginals shouldn’t be consulted and their consent shouldn’t be asked for. They looked at it as a right to do what they wanted then.” (Sinclair, July 21 2013)

It is likely that even at the time, these experiments were seen as ethically dubious (perhaps especially after the atrocities of World War II), and therefore probably why Ian Mosby, the post-doctorate from the University of Guelph, whose research brought these policies to life, uncovered only “vague references to studies conducted on ‘Indians'” while researching the development of health policy for a different project (Livingstone, Toronto Star).

Mosby elaborates, again suggesting the classification of Aboriginals as less than other people,

“I think they really did think they were helping people. Whether they thought they were helping the people that were actually involved in the studies — that’s a different question.” (Mosby, July 21 2013)

The CBC provides archival material from via historian James Daschuk, of a 1946 report of the lives of First Nations in Northern Manitoba.

1946 Report: Medical survey of nutrition among the Northern Manitoba Indians

You can read the full articles through the links below:

Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/07/16/hungry_aboriginal_kids_used_unwittingly_in_nutrition_experiments_researcher_says.html

CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2013/07/18/starvation-politics-aboriginal-nutrition-experiments-in-canada/