Victor Malarek still remembers the specific details of his time at Montreal’s Weredale Home for Boys.
He was 10 when he entered the home, which was an alternative to foster care run by the Quebec government, and spent four years here with his two brothers.
The establishment was designed to protect thousands of children — but Malarek says it did the exact opposite.
“When I look back at the kind of punishments that my brothers and I received, today, would be called assault and battery,” said Victor Malarek. “It was corporal punishments that actually equated to torture. And I couldn’t, as a child, understand what was going on.”
Malarek is one of hundreds, potentially thousands, who claim they were abused at a Quebec youth protection centre.
He went on to become an investigative journalist – dedicating his work to human rights issues such as the abuse of children, women and seniors. He hosted a series of documentaries and news shows and is also the author of eight books.
In 2019, a class action lawsuit was launched after the lead plaintiff, Eleanor Lindsay, came forward to tell her story of sexual abuse and solitary confinement at two youth protection centres in the 1970s.
The claimants are asking for $500,000 in compensation plus punitive damages.
Earlier this month, a Quebec superior court judge authorized the class action, “allowing any person … who was placed on or after October 1 1950, in a centre as per a youth protection law, who was subject to measures (such as solitary confinement, subject to the use of force) or who was sexually assaulted, to file a claim.”
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It excludes those living in a hospital centre, a group home or a foster family.
Also excluded are members of First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities, as are those who received financial assistance and signed a release under the National Reconciliation Program with the orphans of Duplessis.
To support some of the claims in the lawsuit, the lead plaintiff is using articles published in 1975 by former Montreal Gazette reporter Gillian Cosgrove.
In the 70s, she worked undercover as a child-care educator at a Laval youth reception centre and is now about to publish a book on the abuse.
“Girls were punished with solitary confinement for the most trivial offences – offences being coughing, having nightmares or crying even,” said Cosgrove. “And they were left to lie for three or four days in their urine, feces and sometimes their menstrual blood.”
Quebec’s attorney general and more than a dozen of the province’s integrated health and social services centres are named as the defendants in the class-action lawsuit.
Both Quebec’s justice and health and social services ministries declined to comment on the case.
Lev Alexeev, the lawyer behind the request, says it’s impossible to estimate how long the case will be before the court, but he hopes the government will take responsibility for what happened to the claimants.
“The government’s position in court during the authorization hearing was to challenge the request to have this filed, authorized as a class-action. Basically the government was taking the position that it has no responsibility whatsoever, either to Eleanor Lindsay, or to any other member of the class, to the abuses that they suffered at the youth protection centres,” he said.
“To us, this is an irresponsible position to take and quite offensive to the victims in the case.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, help is available. Find resources in your area on this Government of Canada website.
Kids Help Phone provides 24/7 free confidential professional online and telephone counselling and volunteer-led, text-based support in English and French to youth across Canada. Contact them at 1-800-668-6868, text ‘CONNECT’ to 686868 or visit http://www.kidshelpphone.ca.