Canada

Survivors of Quebec’s child welfare system speak out about years of abuse

TORONTO —
Warning: This story contains disturbing content and may not be suitable for all readers.

Canadian war veteran, Keith Villeneuve, has harboured a dark secret for 50 years, about the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of Quebec’s Youth Protection System.

Tossed from one foster home to another from the time he was 18 months old, Keith eventually ended up in the care of the state. In 1967, at age 11, he was placed in Montreal’s Weredale Home for Boys.

Keith told W5 that during his time at Weredale, he was thrown down three flights of stairs by a staff member; and endured not just physical abuse, but verbal and sexual assault.

Keith says, “I remember complaining to (another) staff member… who did the same thing to me.”

Keith is not alone in describing a litany of abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to protect him.

W5 spoke to many survivors of the system, who recall staff leering at them while they showered; others spoke of being sodomized and forced to perform sex acts.

In 1922, there were just a handful of these institutions in Quebec. The number would grow to 117 and not just for boys; girls were also placed in the care of the state.

Darleen O’Keefe ended up at Marion Hall, in Beaconsfield, Que., having escaped, she says, a violent family.

Darlene told W5, “We were prisoners. We were not big. They did not show us any caring or compassion or, (like) ‘hey, this is a child.'”

Thousands of children went through Quebec’s Youth Protection System and now as older adults they are starting to share their heartbreaking stories. They blame the government and want accountability.

To that end, many are joining what could become the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history.

They allege the government of Quebec was aware of the abuse as early as the 1970s and did nothing about it.

In his application to the Superior Court in Montreal, the lawyer spearheading the action, Lev Alexeev, describes “children being sexually touched, caressed, and kissed on the lips by a male guard.”

The application details other alleged crimes, including the use of solitary confinement, unnecessary medication, even children being enticed into developing a nicotine addiction.

Eleanor Lindsay is the lead plaintiff in the class action. It was her story that got the ball rolling. Ellie says she was a good kid, but four years in Youth Protection broke her.

“What if it was your child that was abused by somebody and this is how they protected them by putting them in there and locking them down and drugging them and abusing them?”

W5 reached out to Quebec’s Attorney General, named in the suit, and the province’s Ministry of Health and Social Services to request an interview. Both the Attorney General and the Ministry of Health and Social Services declined to comment publicly.

Some of the men and women who experienced hardship as children, now feel liberated by the potential class action, which has yet to be authorized; gathering in chatrooms to exchange stories.

Many are so damaged they haven’t been able to move on with their lives. The shame, the humiliation, and the hurt endures.

Keith Villeneuve says a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders; as he fights back now to reclaim what he says was lost; his dignity.

Watch Demand for Justice, on CTV’s W5, Saturday Feb. 6, 2021 at 7 p.m. ET


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