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Release of Huronia case files faces delays

TORONTO - Some former residents of an Ontario institution for the developmentally disabled are facing delays in obtaining their case files from the province after settling a class-action lawsuit out of court.

Many of those involved in the lawsuit over alleged abuse and neglect at the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, Ont., are seeking access to records of their stay there as they prepare to submit a claim for compensation.

Lawyers representing the class, which includes those institutionalized at the centre between 1945 and 2009, say the deadline to file a claim had to be pushed back from Aug. 5 to Nov. 30 in part because of the holdup in obtaining the documents.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services, which administers the records, says it has received more than 2,000 requests for case files, with more arriving daily.

It says 1,000 files have been released, some 960 requests are still being processed and roughly 70 files "have not yet been located" despite efforts to find them.

Spokeswoman Gloria Er-Chua says the settlement agreement doesn't require ex-residents to use their files to make a claim.

However, under the terms of the settlement, more money will be awarded to those who provide more detailed accounts of what they endured at the facility.

"The delay is certainly concerning to us," said David Rosenfeld, one of the lawyers representing former Huronia residents.

"One of the major reasons why the settlement was achieved... is because the class is particularly old, they're advancing in age and persons with disabilities, as far as I understand, have a higher mortality rate than those of the normal population, so we wanted to get a settlement that would get some compensation to them relatively quickly."

"And so any delays to the claims process, and the claims deadline, delays compensation to the class so of course it's concerning."

A $35-million settlement was reached in September 2013 just as the suit was about to go to trial and approved in December.

The agreement also called for the province to formally apologize to the thousands who lived at Huronia for the suffering they experienced there.

In a speech delivered in the provincial legislature, Premier Kathleen Wynne addressed what she called a "painful chapter" in Ontario's history, saying the province had failed to protect its most vulnerable residents.

Part of the agreement aims to preserve the centre's grim history, which many plaintiffs feared would be swept under the rug when the case was settled without a trial.

A reference to the "conditions" at the centre must appear on a commemorative plaque on the Huronia grounds. The cemetery where hundreds of children were buried must be maintained and the names of the dead catalogued.

Researchers will also be allowed to visit the now-closed centre and retrieve artifacts they deem historically important.

The facility opened in 1876 as the Orillia Asylum for Idiots and was operated by the province for 133 years before it shut down in 2009.

The suit alleged residents suffered almost daily humiliation and abuse.

Some said they worked in the fields for little or no money, and recalled being put in straightjackets or drugged, as well as other physical, sexual and verbal abuses.

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