The Huronia Regional Centre was a total institution, one of Canada’s oldest and first, built and run by the Ontario government to warehouse people with intellectual disabilities.
A History of Abuse Horrifies
Opened in 1876, Huronia’s reputation as a site of ongoing and often horrific abuse and neglect emerged over the latter half of the 20th century, yet the institution remained open until 2009.
In 2010, a landmark class action lawsuit was brought by survivors against the Government of Ontario for failing in its fiduciary duty in relation to the mistreatment residents experienced while institutionalized between 1945 and 2009. A settlement was reached out of court in 2013 for $35 million.
A Legal Victory Inspires
This settlement has been heralded as a legal victory that has inspired comparable lawsuits.
Survivors from two now closed Ontarian institutions for persons with intellectual disabilities, Rideau Regional Centre near Ottawa Ontario and Southwestern Regional Centre near Chatham Ontario, have successfully settled class action suits.
Suits regarding the institutionalization of persons with physical disabilities, at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children in Westphal Nova Scotia and the W. Ross MacDonald School for the visually impaired (formerly the Ontario School of the Blind) in Brantford Ontario are underway.
Directly inspired by the Huronia settlement, a class of 8,800 persons labeled intellectually disabled are bringing a $1 billion class action suit against Ontario for the harm and neglect they experienced in 12 institutions across the province.
This rash of lawsuits indicates that Huronia’s history of violence is not isolated.
Since the 19th century, people diagnosed as “idiots” or “feebleminded” were placed into provincially-run institutions where many remained for life, and allege having experienced physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuse.
Community Living Canada estimates that over 12,000 people remain inappropriately institutionalized across Canada, while many more of the over 174,000 adults with intellectual disabilities carry the burden of earlier institutionalization.
Telling it Forward
Projects like the Huronia Speakers' Bureau, Recounting Huronia, and many similar initiatives in the disabilities arts movement are integral to both marking the effects of institutionalization, as well as imagining a future beyond institutionalization.
The passion, articulacy, creativity, and sense of purpose of the individuals involved in the Huronia Speakers' Bureau can act as a great reserve of insight and wisdom in service of a society needing to become more equitable.