TORONTO — Canadian children who were moved to mental institutions by officials to get more federal money have accepted a compensation offer for abuse they suffered, decades after their ordeal.
The so-called “Duplessis orphans” decided to take the Quebec government offer that amounts to about $16,650 for each of the 1,000 surviving victims after their counteroffer of double that amount was rejected.
Bruno Roy, president of a committee representing the orphans, said Saturday night that the group unanimously accepted the provincial government’s offer, which will amount to at least $16.7 million.
The offer lacked any apology and apportioned no blame to the Quebec government at the time, which sanctioned the transfers to get more federal money, or to the Roman Catholic Church, which ran the institutions where the orphans say they were physically and sexually abused.
Roy said the orphans accepted the government’s terms unanimously because they knew it was the best they would get.
“Even if this offer is insufficient, they are accepting it because they are reaching the ends of their lives,” he said.
Most of the Duplessis orphans were children born to single mothers who left them in the care of Roman Catholic Church orphanages during the period when Maurice Duplessis was premier of Quebec in the 1940s and 50s.
Because more federal government funding was available for care of mentally retarded children than for care of orphans, many of the children were designated as retarded and put into psychiatric institutions with mentally ill people.
The orphans say most of those designated as retarded were born illegitimate and therefore considered shameful in the Roman Catholic environment of the institutions.
In the early 1990s, many of the orphans tried to file a class-action suit seeking damages, but the effort was rebuffed in the courts. Scores of orphans then tried to lodge criminal charges against individual monks, nuns and other staff at the facilities, but the government declined to prosecute the cases.
Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, who took power earlier this year after Lucien Bouchard resigned, made settling the Duplessis orphans issue a top priority. The settlement came after Quebec’s three major labor unions, traditional supporters of Landry’s Parti Quebecois, called for the government to make an acceptable offer.
The agreement prohibits anyone accepting the money from taking further legal action. Roy said his members still will seek compensation from the Roman Catholic Church, even though they have no leverage to force a response.