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Survivors of institutionalization empowered to speak out

Posted Apr 23rd, 2016 in News

Survivors of institutionalization empowered to speak out

Excerpted from Community Living Ontario, article by Justin dePasse, Published Feb 29 2016.

Gone, but not forgotten – that’s the belief of many former residents of the Huronia Regional Centre. It’s been nearly seven years since the institution closed its doors for good, but, for many, the memories live on.

A new initiative comprised of survivors is looking to ensure that their experiences will never be forgotten.

The Huronia Speakers Bureau is providing a platform for former residents who want to discuss their experiences, and how they are overcoming that chapter of their lives.

Update Friday spoke with Dr. Jen Rinaldi, a researcher at theUniversity of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), who is the volunteer administrator for the Bureau, and Harold Dougall, a former resident and Bureau presenter.

The Bureau itself is part of a larger initiative called Recounting Huronia: A Participatory Arts-Based Research Project, which was funded by a UOIT Social Science and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant. Dr. Rinaldi provided some insight on what the Bureau hopes to accomplish.

“The bureau was a response to the survivors who really wanted to speak with organizations and universities about their experiences, so they could raise consciousness about institutionalization and self-advocacy, as well as the kind of political work that’s been done since Huronia closed.”

The Centre represents a dark chapter of Ontario’s history, where documented cases of mistreatment and abuse over the years culminated with a $35-million class action settlement for former residents.

Each of the speakers brings a unique and impactful story that illustrates their experience living in the institution. Dougall gave his reasons for his involvement with the Bureau.

“It provides a platform for us to speak out. We can help others to do the same. It helps survivors to talk about themselves. If the survivors don’t talk about what happened, how will people know about it? I’m speaking on behalf of everyone who has had to go through the [experience of living in] institutions.”

The speakers generated quite a reaction at a lecture last month in Oshawa, which was hosted by the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Attendees were mostly students that had little prior knowledge of the events that had taken place at Huronia.

“There was such a surprised and shocked reaction from the audience when they learned that these are events that took place up until 2009,” says Rinaldi.

With that being said, the Bureau’s workshops and presentations are not necessarily intended to shock the audience, but rather to allow the survivors to recount their experiences with institutionalization.

“We are very careful about how we tell these stories and that’s what a lot of the workshops have been about. To ensure that it isn’t just shock factor, but that speakers are talking about the work they’ve done since to oppose institutionalization, to remember people who have died, and to seek legal and community-based justice for anyone who can’t speak for themselves,” adds Rinaldi.

In terms of the Bureau’s goals, Dougall says the main priority is to get people to listen and understand the survivors’ perspectives.

“We also want feedback from the people we speak to. I have a learning disability, and I want them to know learning disabilities can’t stop anyone from speaking and sharing their experiences.”

Rinaldi added that the Bureau also wants to explore creative and satisfying means for building community ties and facilitating community healing.

“Restorative justice can happen outside of courtrooms through these projects where people connect with community and tell their stories, and I think creating these events through the Bureau will facilitate the healing.”

The next event for the Huronia Speakers Bureau will be March 24th at York University. [Correction, the event date has been moved to May 5]

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