TORONTO -- A man who says he was badly abused at one of Ontario's now-defunct training schools is spearheading a proposed class-action against the province that seeks $600 million on behalf of other children and youth sent to the provincial facilities.
In his unproven statement of claim, Kirk Keeping, 64, alleges the schools were festering cesspools of sexual, physical and psychological abuse perpetrated by unsupervised and unqualified staff on hapless kids.
"The training schools contained a toxic environment in which degrading and humiliating treatment of children in the Crown's care was the norm," the claim states. "Physical, sexual and psychological abuse was rampant, and residents of training schools were systematically denied their dignity and basic human rights."
The provincial training schools for boys and girls aged eight to 16 operated between 1931 until they were finally shut down in 1984. Those sentenced to the facilities were children found begging on the streets, runaways, truants, those deemed "incorrigible," those convicted of petty offences, or those who, for various reasons, had inadequate adult supervision. Once there, they became wards of the Crown and were cut off from any family support.
While the idea was to provide support, correction and vocational training for troubled youth, the claim alleges the reality was far more sinister -- one of "fear intimidation and brutality."
Staff forced children to beat up on other children or meted out physical punishment themselves. Youth were thrown into solitary confinement in shackles, not allowed to go to the washroom, were forced to scrub floors with toothbrushes or sleep on floors, and were forced into sexual acts, according to the claim.
Attempting to report the abuse would lead to retaliation in the form of longer sentences, the claim alleges.
Keeping, of Thunder Bay, Ont., was an unmanageable runaway when a judge in 1968 sent the 15 year old to Pine Ridge in Bouwmanville. During his two years there, he was sexually abused by a woman in the kitchen where he was given work and later, on a dairy farm, he says, by a man.
"I've held it inside myself for going on 50 years and it's been a long time," Keeping, now a father and grandfather, told The Canadian Press from Thunder Bay. "I grew up in a time when things like that were kept in the closet and you were ashamed -- you didn't want people to know things like that."
He said he lived in fear for a lot of years -- even after he left Pine Ridge -- and still suffers from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The suit filed last week in Ontario Superior Court in Thunder Bay, has yet to be certified as a class action or proven in any court.
"I just feel it's time," Keeping said. "It's time that people understood what happened to us young boys in that training school."
Among other things, the claim states, the provincial government knew or ought to have known what was happening in the schools but failed to do anything about the situation.
It seeks $500 million in general damages and another $100 million in punitive damages, alleging the province was negligent, failed in the expected standard of care, and breached its duty toward its young charges.
"The Crown conducted its affairs with wanton and callous disregard for the class members' interests, safety and well-being," the claim states.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said he couldn't discuss a lawsuit that is before the courts but expressed sympathy for the victims.
"As a parent and as an Ontarian, my heart goes out to all the children who suffered those abuses," Naqvi said on Tuesday. "Those parents entrusted their children to those institutions and those type of abuses should never have happened."
According to a report from former Quebec judge Fred Kaufman in 2002, Ontario reached settlements with survivors of three schools -- St. Joseph's, St. John's and Grandview -- decades ago. Former premier Dalton McGuinty formally apologized to some of those students in 2004.
The new suit seeks to represent those who attended 12 others in places such as Oakville, Galt, Lindsay, Port Bolster, Bowmanville, Simcoe, Hagersville, Cobourg and Guelph.