Manitoba lawsuit alleges intellectually disabled residents were sexually abused & starved

An article published by the CBC highlighted that it is alleged that children and adults who lived at a provincially operated institution for Manitobans with intellectual disabilities suffered regular sexual and physical abuse for decades. Now, a $50-million lawsuit is being brought forth to the court against the province.

The claims include allegations that staff at the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba beat residents, as well as allegations of resident-on-resident rape, food deprivation and the use of nudity as punishment.

The lawsuit, filed October 31st, has yet to be certified as a class action by a judge. It's intended to cover all living or recently living residents of the Manitoba Developmental Centre admitted after July 1, 1951.

David Weremy, a representative plaintiff in the lawsuit, says he experienced years of trauma at the facility, which included sexual abuse, physical assault and being confined naked in a room.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

A spokesperson for the Manitoba Justice Department said its lawyers have reviewed the statement of claim. The province declined to comment about the case because it is before the courts.

The Manitoba government has until January 29th, 2019, to file a statement of defence. Along with $50 million in punitive damages, the lawsuit seeks an admission from the province it was negligent in the operation, management and supervision of the Manitoba Developmental Centre.

"People simply, at no point in time, at any point in the years past, should ever be living in these circumstances. Period," said Weremy's lawyer, David Rosenfeld, a partner with Toronto-based firm Koskie Minsky. The firm has represented other class actions against institutions, including one against the Huronia Regional Centre in Ontario, which led to a $35-million settlement.

The Manitoba Developmental Centre, which first opened in 1890, remains an active long-term care facility for more than 100 residents with intellectual disabilities. The 2018 operating budget for the facility is $29 million.

In the 1960s and 1970s, around 1,200 people lived at MDC. The numbers began to rapidly decline in the 1980s under Manitoba's Welcome Home initiative, which sought to help people with disabilities integrate back into the community. Today, the sprawling campus in the north end of Portage la Prairie — a small city about 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg — includes several multi-storey brick buildings, basketball hoops and shaded, outdoor picnic areas.

CBC asked for a tour of the facility but the province declined the request, to "respect the privacy of our residents."

People First of Canada, a group that advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, has been campaigning for the closure of Manitoba Developmental Centre for nearly 30 years.

The allegations include physical and sexual abuse as well as starvation, the lawsuit alleges. ​Weremy said he and other residents were routinely underfed, especially at dinner time.

To read the full article, please click here. Community Ventures Society will follow this story closely as the lawsuit and investigation develops.