By Barry Ellsworth
TRENTON, Canada (AA) – A CAN$1.1 billion lawsuit has been filed on behalf of thousands of former patients of government-run so-called “Indian hospitals” where it is alleged sexual and physical abuse was rampant, media reports said Tuesday.
The 29 facilities, originally set up as tuberculosis treatment centers, were segregated for aboriginal peoples only and operated in six provinces and two territories from 1945 to 1981, when the last one was closed.
The suit claims the government knew of the abuses but did nothing to stop “the perpetration of grievous harm.
“I think people would be shocked to know that for almost 40 years Canada was operating a segregated health-care system, designing and implementing hospitals just for Indigenous Canadians where they first treated for tuberculosis, but ultimately expanded to include all other illnesses,” Jonathan Ptak, a barrister with Koskie Minsky, the Toronto law firm handling the suit, told reporters in Toronto. “They were taken from their homes, often in remote locations and treated in these substandard hospitals.”
The suit claims patients were “forcibly confined” in the hospitals – often converted military barracks left over from the World War II – that were “overcrowded, poorly staffed and unsanitary facilities where they suffered consistent physical and sexual abuse.”
The federal minister of indigenous relations and northern affairs responded to the lawsuit in a statement that sought to deflect legal action.
“Canada believes that the best way to address outstanding issues and achieve reconciliation with Indigenous people is through negotiation and dialogue, rather than litigation,” Carolyn Bennett said.
“We are committed to working with all parties to explore mechanisms outside the adversarial court process to deal with these claims.”
The government has not yet filed a statement of defence, Ptak said.