Duplessis Orphans CA True Account
Orphans of the 1950’s, Telling of Abuse, Sue Quebec
Page link 1989 NY Times
difficult to transcribe — date and publication in the title above
Herve Bertrand remembers the day well — March 18, 1955 — when a nun told him and the others in his third-grade class at the Mont Providence orphanage in north Montreal that they had all been declared “mentally deficient.”
He was 12 and did not fully realize the implications. The nun, Sister Colette Francoise of the Sisters of Providence, was in tears. Outside the small windows of the massive redbrick structure, the sullen gray sky was like a slab of cold steel.
By declaring the orphans mentally deficient, Quebec and the church had found a way to line their coffers: the province obtained big subsidies from Ottawa for building hospitals and it in turn paid the church more than twice as much for caring for psychiatric patients as it did for orphans.
What happened next is part of one of the darker chapters of Quebec history, which is only now coming to light as hundreds of victims like Mr. Bertrand relate their stories and seek compensation and an apology from the Quebec government and seven Roman Catholic religious orders. No More Schooling . . .”
… end of article:
Gilles Bourbonniere, 51, lives on tranquilizers and still cannot read and write, and Denis Le Coq, 52, has testicular problems from early beatings and has taken antidepressant pills for the last 35 years. They were with Mr. Bertrand at Mont Providence, but did not get away until much later.
Denis Lazure, who was practicing psychiatry in the early 1960’s and is now a member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly, said he was part of a commission that investigated the mental institutions in that period. “One of our main findings was that out of 22,000 patients we felt that at least one-third had no business being there.”
Bernard Piche, 75, the doctor who signed the document certifying the mental deficiencies at Mont Providence, still practices part time at the Louis H. Lafontaine psychiatric hospital in Montreal.
He declined to respond to requests for an interview. In a comment to Photo Police, a Montreal crime tabloid, he described the forms he signed as “bureaucracy, paperwork” and acknowledged that he could not actually remember examining any students.
Mr. Bertrand said he recently confronted Dr. Piche and asked heatedly, “Why did you sign this?” The doctor, according to Mr. Bertrand, replied, “I did it because the nuns asked me to.” Group Seeks $1.2 Billion
Robert Fauteux, the lawyer for the orphans’ committee, said the suits filed in Montreal and Quebec City promise to be the biggest court action in the province’s history and predicted they might take three years to play out….
Next pertinent article:
“Even by the standards of mid-twentieth-century Canada, when discrimination was rampant and governments restricted fundamental freedoms, Maurice Duplessis stands out. His tenure as premier of Quebec (1936-39, 1944-59) is often referred to as le grande noirceur (the great darkness). By the 1950s, Duplessis had become associated with some of the worst instances of state abuse of civil liberties in Canadian history. One of these created the “Duplessis orphans.”
As premier, Duplessis (a childless bachelor) had a powerful ally in the Catholic Church, which was responsible for social services throughout the province, including orphanages. More than twenty thousand “illegitimate” children – of unmarried, often young, women – were born in Quebec between 1949 and 1956. The proportion of illegitimate children in the province was lower than in the rest of Canada, but the province had the highest rate of institutionalization and fewer adoptions. It was not uncommon for unwed mothers to be shamed into surrendering their children to the church; a powerful stigma was attached to unmarried motherhood, and abortion and the sale of contraception were criminal offences. Many children were also abandoned upon the death of a parent, and others were forcibly removed from their homes as a result of poverty, unemployment, sickness, or abuse. Children who grew up in Quebec orphanages faced a difficult life. Because of their status, they were exempted from compulsory schooling, a provision that endured for several years. The religious orders prioritized work over education; and the sons of unwed mothers could not legally inherit from their biological parents and could not become priests unless they had a special exemption. For many, this meant a life of deprivation, religious indoctrination, and feelings of guilt for their characterization as “children of sin.” And the church was poorly equipped to care for them. Orphanages had limited resources, and each nun was often responsible for watching at least ten children under the age of two. As the Quebec Ombudsman wrote in one of his reports on the investigation, “the majority of children spoke only in sounds until the ages of 4 to 6, and were incapable of telling time, eating with utensils, getting around, washing themselves, etc. In one trade school, up to 25% of the children between 9 and 16 were found to be bedwetters.”
The term “Duplessis orphans” refers to the cohort of children who suffered particularly traumatic abuse at the hands of the state and the Catholic Church: they were falsely diagnosed as mentally unfit and sent to psychiatric hospitals. The purpose of this was to maximize federal funding, which, at the time, was more generous for hospitals than for orphanages. The church was complicit in this scheme. In some instances, such as Mont-Providence, entire orphanages were reclassified as psychiatric institutions. When this occurred, the nuns’ relationship with their charges changed dramatically: they stopped educating the children, who were treated as “mentally deficient” patients. The Montreal Journal would later report that most of the children were improperly diagnosed: “Jean Gaudreau, a psychologist at the University of Montreal who visited one of the orphanages in 1961, said there is little doubt that children were unnecessarily institutionalized during that time. Tests conducted then showed, he said, that mental deficiencies were often caused by lack of stimulation, not mental illness.” [cited in NY Times, 5 March 1999] An estimated two to four thousand children were physically, mentally, and sexually abused. They were not treated when they became ill, and according to Paré et al. in “Les expériences vécues”, a survey of former orphans, they suffered the following abuses: “présence de règles injustes et de châtiments excessifs, abus physiques perpétrés par les personnes responsables, négligence émotive, exposition à de la violence perpétrée sur d’autres enfants par les personnes responsables, abus verbaux provenant des personnes responsables, négligence physique, abus sexuels perpétrés par les personnes responsables.” Many were forced to work as domestics, farmhands, or as help in church-run institutions such as hospitals – their pay was remitted to the orphanages. Several committed suicide, were killed, or struggled with mental illness. News reports claimed that some endured lobotomies, electroshock, straitjackets, and corporal punishment. When the province removed the orphans from psychiatric institutions in the 1960s (following the 1962 Bédard Commission report that recommended deinstitutionalization), they struggled to integrate into society. Many had difficulties with personal and romantic relationships, addictions, unemployment, and financial hardships. Most suffered from discrimination later in life. As Paré et al. write in “Les expériences vécues”, the “abus et la négligence subis par les [enfants de Duplessis] pendant l’enfance ont compromis leur ajustement psychosocial à long terme.”
The issue gained momentum in 1989, when the popular host of Radio-Québec’s Parler pour parler, Jeannette Bertrand, invited several Duplessis orphans to appear on her show. Pauline Gill’s 1991 exposé, L’histoire vraie d’Alice Quinton, drew further attention to their plight. In 1992, Bruno Roy, a Quebec-based writer and himself a Duplessis orphan, led an organization called the Duplessis Orphans’ Committee to secure redress from the Quebec government. Its initial attempts proved ineffective. A Quebec Superior Court rejected the committee’s petition for a class-action lawsuit, and it failed in its efforts to have criminal charges brought against the monks and nuns who were accused of abuse (many of the hospital files had been lost or destroyed) ….”