A multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of patients who lived in a Portage la Prairie development centre alleges the province failed to prevent rape, abuse and starvation at the institution.
The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 31 against the province, says the Government of Manitoba was negligent in its operations of the Manitoba Development Centre and should pay former patients $50 million.
“The Crown failed to reasonably consider or act upon the knowledge or recommendations it had been provided … the Crown was also aware of the abuse occurring at MDC yet failed to take any reasonable action to prevent it from continuing or occurring,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit was filed by former resident David Weremy, 74, who lived at the centre for about 15 years until he was last discharged in 1977. Suffering from an intellectual disability, the statement of claim says he was told he “suffered from mental retardation” and placed in the centre.
Weremy alleges during his time at MDC he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by other residents, witnessed residents being sexually and physically assaulted nightly, and that he and other patients were consistently underfed.
“He often witnessed other residents not only eating out of garbage cans as a source of food, but also witnessed residents eating feces out of toilet bowls.”
The statement of claim says Weremy tried to escape nine times, only to be captured and punished, forced to “sleep naked on the floor without a mattress.”
Lawyer David Rosenfeld told 680 CJOB Wednesday that Weremy has an “incredible strength of character” to come forward and build a case.
“[It’s hard] to take the next step and try and be a champion on behalf of those who don’t come forward themselves.”
The problems at the MDC have been known for decades, the statement of claim says. Media reports, government reports and lawsuits over the years have documented everything from residents being stripped naked as a behavioural punishment and verbal and physical abuse to derogatory language, physical abuse, choking, kicking, slapping, professional misconduct, overcrowding, numerous attempts by residents to escape only to be punished upon return, unsupervised locked wards in the evenings, and the death of a resident after an outing.
Despite numerous reports and recommendations, the lawsuit alleges few or no improvements were made at the centre to prevent the abuse of the patients there.
“The Crown knew or ought to have known that, as a consequence of the above-documented failures, that the plaintiff and the residents of MDC would suffer … both immediate and long-term mental, emotional, psychological and physical harm.
“As a result of the aforementioned injuries, Class members have required and will continue to require further medical treatment, rehabilitation, counselling and other care.”
Rosenfeld put the blame squarely on the Province.
“The province of Manitoba … set up this institution for failure. It set up the staff for failure.
“It set up a toxic environment for these residents.”
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“The province has received the statement of claim on this matter and is currently reviewing it in order to prepare our statement of defence,” said a spokesperson from the province.
“It must be filed by January 29.”
The MDC first opened in 1890 and is still home to about 160 residents. The centre no longer accepts new patients, but at its peak in the 1960s, had about 1,200 people living there. It has had several names over its years of operation.
The population shrunk in the 1980s as the Manitoba government sought to integrate people with disabilities into their communities.