- LAWSUITS; SEXUAL, PHYSICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE
SPRUCEDALE, PINE RIDGE & BROOKSIDE TRAINING SCHOOLS; WHITE OAKS
KAWARTHA LAKES SCHOOL (FORMERLY ONTARIO TRAINING SCHOOL FOR GIRLS,
LINDSAY; CIRCLE 'R' BOYS RANCH, COOKSTOWN
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
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
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
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
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."