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Ontario premier apologizes for alleged abuse of developmentally disabled

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to premiers from across the country and National Aboriginal Organization leaders during a meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., on July 24, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Lynett

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she’s sorry for the lasting pain and loss suffered by hundreds of former residents of a provincial institution for the developmentally disabled who have alleged abuse.

Wynne formally apologized in the Ontario legislature this afternoon for what happened at the now-shuttered Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, Ont.

She says the province “broke faith” with some of its most vulnerable residents by exposing them to neglect and abuse within “the very system that was meant to provide them care.”

The apology is part of a $35-million settlement that was approved last week in a class-action suit against the province over the treatment at Huronia.

The deal was reached in September just hours before the case was scheduled to go to trial.

Though a few former residents have opposed what they deem an inadequate settlement, many have expressed relief that their suffering is finally being acknowledged.

“Over a period of generations, and under various governments, too many of these men, women, children and their families were deeply harmed and continue to bear the scars and the consequences of this time,” said Wynne, who earlier walked through the public galleries to shake hands with some former Huronia residents.

“Their humanity was undermined. They were separated from their families and robbed of their potential, their comfort, safety and their dignity,” she said.

And while there has been a radical shift in how developmentally disabled people are treated, more needs to be done, Wynne added.

The suit covered those institutionalized at the centre between 1945 and 2009 and alleged residents suffered almost daily humiliation and abuse at the overcrowded facility.

Some said they worked in the fields for little or no money, and recalled being forced to walk around with no pants on as punishment for speaking out of turn.

The case’s sudden resolution meant those who had geared themselves up to testify never shared their stories with the court, and some worried the centre’s grim history would be wiped clean.

But part of the agreement aims to chronicle what happened at Huronia by placing a commemorative plaque on the grounds and maintaining the cemetery where hundreds of children were buried.

Researchers will also be allowed to visit the now-closed centre and retrieve artifacts they deem historically important.