The province says it is going to start transitioning residents living with intellectual disabilities from the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie to community living.
Family Services Minister Rochelle Squires made the announcement from Portage la Prairie Friday afternoon.
“I want to reiterate that this is a three-year transition plan,” she said. “This facility will still remain a Department of Families facility for that time frame.”
A total of 133 residents will be moved out of the centre, said Squires, adding that residents will be moved to “supportive and appropriate” homes, some in Portage la Prairie, some elsewhere, depending on the families’ wishes.
“Planning is underway to build and expand homes in the region to support community living and ongoing economic development,” said Squires.
Squires confirmed the centre will close, but said none of the 370 people currently working there will lose their jobs.
“They’re very highly skilled employees … as long as there are residents living at MDC, their work will be needed and required so that we can continue to offer that same quality of life and same standards to our residents there.”
Mayor Irvine Ferris said the city has been working with the province on the need to move residents out of the centre for years.
“(We) understand the need for this change,” Ferris said in a press release.
“We look forward to continuing this working relationship as we find valuable alternative uses for the property.”
Squires said that “around the world, there is a trend away from institutional care.”
She said the province will continue to “reach out to families, as well as other key stakeholders, agencies and advocates” over the coming years.
Lawsuit, human rights complaint
The Manitoba Developmental Centre is one of the last of its kind in Canada.
It is also the subject of a $50-million class-action lawsuit filed against the province, alleging rape, abuse and starvation at the institution.
The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 31, 2018, says the government of Manitoba was negligent in its operations of the centre and should pay former patients $50 million.
That lawsuit has wound its way through the courts and a notice of reserved judgement was delivered in November of 2020, meaning the judge has not made a decision yet and does not have a date to make one.
The centre was also the subject of a human rights complaint in 2006 that was filed by a group that said the large institutional setting was an affront to human dignity.
As part of a settlement in the case, the NDP government of the day agreed to move dozens of residents out but maintained that others had high needs that could not be met in facilities such as group homes.
Ontario closed down its last such facility in 2009.
“As a society, we must guarantee future generations of people with intellectual disabilities, and their families, that we will never create institutions again,” Janet Forbes, executive director of Inclusion Winnipeg Inc., said in a press release Friday. The group is a charity that advocates for people with intellectual disabilities.
The NDP Opposition said the government must ensure a smooth transition for the remaining residents, many of whom have lived there for much of their lives.
Danielle Adams, NDP critic for persons with disabilities, also noted that the facility provides good jobs to hundreds of Manitobans in Portage la Prairie and the surrounding region.
“The premier should ensure every laid-off worker has access to an equally good, new job close to home,” she said in a release.
–With files from The Canadian Press