HomeJoin UsContact Us
Forer Institutions
Federation Supporters
Support the Federation
Healing Trauma
Legal Services
Administrative Services
Client Human Resources
Access to Record Services
Public Educator's Office



Reform inmates claim 'malicious' abuse
Dozens of boys sent to now-defunct provincial training schools are suing Ontario for alleged physical, emotional and sexual mistreatment, James McCarten reports.

James McCarten
The Canadian Press
April 14, 2003

TORONTO -- A group of reform-school alumni is emerging from a dark corner of Canadian history with chilling tales of sexual abuse, physical brutality and emotional torment they allegedly suffered as boys inside institutions once operated by the Ontario government. Dozens of veterans of the training school program -- a long-defunct, 60-year project to house and rehabilitate "unmanageable" and "incorrigible" children -- are suing over a litany of alleged abuses spanning 30 years. Police have so far interviewed more than 3,000 former residents and employees as part of several ongoing criminal probes that began in 1997 and remain far from over. The allegations, contained in numerous statements of claim filed over the course of the last two years with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, run the gamut: sexual assaults, beatings and an endless array of emotional and psychological cruelty. Much of the abuse was allegedly committed by staff and supervisors, as well as employees at a handful of privately operated foster homes, over a period stretching from the early 1960s to as recently as 1986.

John Prokipczuk, 50, alleges he was beaten regularly and sexually abused dozens of times while attending two institutions between 1966 and 1969. Mr. Prokipczuk, who now lives in Penticton, B.C., blames the abuse for his chronic depression, sleepless nights and a life that has been filled with illegal drugs and time in jail.
"It's kinda like, if they could've killed you and got away with it, they would've done it," said Mr. Prokipczuk, whose chronic truancy landed him in training school at 13. "Certain things were isolated, like the sexual part of it. It wasn't done in front of other people. But you knew what was going on. The mental, spiritual, emotional, physical abuse -- that part was done out front."

Many alleged victims are identified only by initials, but Mr. Prokipczuk is among those who specifically requested that his real name be used. "If they're still alive, I want them to fear," he said of his alleged
attackers. Allegations in a statement of claim are accusations only and must be proven in court. A spokes-man for the attorney general did not return calls. Most of the alleged abuse involves two schools Mr. Prokipczuk attended: Brookside Training School in Cobourg, an hour east of Toronto, and Sprucedale Training School in Hagersville, about 50 kilometres south of Hamilton.

Among the others:

? White Oaks Village, originally a facility for boys eight to 12 located adjacent to Sprucedale and operated as an open-custody juvenile facility;

? Pine Ridge Training School in Bowmanville, formerly known as the Ontario Training School for Boys, Bowmanville;

? Kawartha Lakes School in Lindsay, formerly the Ontario Training School for Girls, Lindsay;

? Circle 'R' Boys Ranch in Cookstown, a foster home now known as the Robert Thompson Youth and Family Centre;

? A variety of foster homes, most of which are no longer in operation.

Sprucedale was moved to Simcoe in 1978 and now operates as a young offender facility. The Brookside Youth Centre has also housed young offenders since 1984.

Beginning in 1925, training schools operated in various forms as reformatories for wayward children, often as young as eight and often for "crimes" as minor as truancy. Section 8 of the 1965 Training Schools Act, which gave the province the power to seize custody of any "unmanageable" child regardless of the wishes of his or her parents, was repealed in 1977. Many schools continued to house children aged 12 to 18 until the mid-1980s, when passage of the Young Offenders Act formally signalled the end of the training-school era in Canada.

Like Mr. Prokipczuk, many of the students who attended those institutions in the 1960s and 1970s have suffered lifelong emotional scars. Many battle drug and alcohol addictions and struggle to stay out of jail. "They're angry and bitter," said defence lawyer Loretta Merritt, a specialist in institutional abuse cases who's spearheading the legal offensive. Since taking on her first training school client in 1999, Ms. Merritt has filed
suits for 31 former residents of Ontario training schools, and plans to file on behalf of another six. More than 15,000 students were registered at the schools between 1963 and 1979.

It's too early to speculate about the number of victims or when -- even if -- criminal charges will be laid, said Ontario Provincial Police Det.-Supt. Ross Bingley, director of the criminal investigations branch. But there are
at least eight officers working full time on Sprucedale alone, which was home to an estimated 2,200 students during the relevant 20-year time frame, he said. "It's a huge endeavour," Det.-Supt. Bingley said. "You can
appreciate the enormity of it, and these things we don't want to charge into in any way, shape or form; we're going to work as long as we have to to make it accurate." A separate investigation into Brookside is also under way, and police are investigating allegations emanating from Pine Ridge, Det.-Supt. Bingley said.
The investigations are taking a long time, he acknowledged. But there are between 14,000 and 30,000 people police believe could be helpful.

An array of staff members who worked at the schools during the relevant periods are also named in the suits as individual defendants. In many cases, full names aren't known. In one statement of claim, the victim, now 37, alleges he was fondled and sexually assaulted in the shower by staff during a two-week stay at Pine Ridge in 1977, and during his two years at Kawartha Lakes. In 1979, when he was 14, the plaintiff ended up at Brookside, where he alleges he was subjected to more than 30 separate physical and sexual assaults at the hands of 11 staff members.

"The conduct of the individual defendants was intentional, malicious and done with the knowledge that it would cause the plaintiff to suffer humiliation, indignity, sexual, physical, emotional and mental distress and
injury," the statement of claim reads. In many cases, plaintiffs were kept quiet with physical threats or promises of cigarettes, special privileges or early release, the statements say. In his statement, Mr. Prokipczuk alleges he was sexually assaulted on more than 20 occasions by one Brookside staffer in particular. Many statements describe insidious forms of systemic physical abuse.

If a child failed to eat all of his meal, "the Brookside staff would force the child to drink excessive amounts of water until the child finally vomited," the statement says. In one case, Brookside plaintiffs describe being made to stand naked, hands extended behind their backs for hours at a time, leaning backwards against a wall on their thumbs until they collapsed. They also allege being forced to hold chairs over their heads while their toes were "stamped on."

"Group punishment such as this was common at Brookside, and often resorted to when no child would take responsibility for conduct that had taken place," one statement says. "Later, if the child who was responsible for the conduct was discovered, then that individual would be severely beaten by the staff members."

The decision to abolish the schools came after a sustained public and political outcry brought on by 19 children who died, many violently, in the two years after being released from training schools. Four were suicides. The deaths came amid mounting criticism that the program did little more than prepare children for an inevitable life of crime and warnings from insiders that staff members were condoning and encouraging "brutality of an organized nature."
© Copyright 2003 Internations' Justice Federation