Toronto Star, Apr. 12 2012
Bob Seed, who manages a community-based radio station in Thunder Bay, Ont., is the lead plaintiff in a class-action bid against a provincially-run
school for the blind and visually impaired.
The bid claims the school sexually and physically abused residents dating back to the 1950s.
They’re terrible stories if they’re true.
There are allegations of visually impaired, blind and deaf-blind students being slapped, kicked, punched, forced to drink from a urinal, and made to
eat their own vomit as punishment for throwing up – all at the hands of their teachers and staff.
The accusations are contained in court documents submitted by former students of W. Ross MacDonald School, a provincially-run school in
Brantford, Ont., who are trying to bring a class-action suit against the province.
After arguments in Toronto this week, Ontario Superior Court Judge Carolyn Horkins is now deciding whether to certify the group’s claim as a class
It is seeking $200 million in damages for allegations covering the period from 1951 to the present. As many as 1,000 former students could be
affected, say lawyers for the claimants.
The court documents paint a grim picture of a school where staff, many of them unqualified to deal with vulnerable, handicapped children, created an
insidious atmosphere of bullying and abuse, often using the students’ disabilities against them.
Punishment included leaving a visually impaired student alone in the dormitory hallway at night, causing disorientation, the court documents
“In another example, a teacher during class spun a blind student around several times, and left him to find his seat. Staff would also take
advantage of disabilities by sneaking up on students during their private conversations.”
There are also allegations of sexual abuse.
The claimants say the province “knew or ought to have known” of the alleged physical, emotional and sexual abuse of students at the school, yet took no steps to prevent, halt or eliminate it. The claim also says the province
acted “negligently and in breach of its fiduciary duties” in operating and managing the facility.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
For its part Ontario has not filed a statement of defence yet, and will not be doing so until after the certification motion is decided. However, its
lawyers argued this week, in a highly technical submission, that because there was no evidence that the province had put its own interest ahead of
the plaintiffs’, the claim should not be allowed to go ahead.
Bob Seed, 66, the lead plaintiff in the class-action bid, claims the abuse he suffered as a student at W. Ross MacDonald began in the early 1960s when
he was around 14.
Seed, blind in his left eye due to an unsuccessful cataract operation when he was two years old, was sent to the school at the age of seven by his
parents because other schools couldn’t accommodate his disability. He became a resident there, like most of his fellow students, going home only for
Christmas, Easter and the summer break.
In Grade 8, Seed alleges, he was physically abused by a teacher who he says conducted classes like a boot camp.
One day Seed was having problems answering a math question in class.
“(My teacher) had a habit of sitting on the corner of his desk. He jumped off his desk and grabbed me by the throat, spat in my face and shoved me,
desk and all, to the back of the classroom, then came back and punched me,” Seed alleges.
Seed said he spent more than a week in the school’s infirmary recovering from his injuries.
“It was pretty brutal,” Seed said in an interview from his home in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Seed said he also saw a male student being forced by a school supervisor to drink out of a urinal at the school as punishment.
“I think most (students) lived in fear. You didn’t know what was going to happen next,” said Seed, who would later go on to work as a broadcaster,
including for the CBC, and who now manages a community-based radio station in Thunder Bay.
The court documents say Seed spoke to the Ministry of Education about the allegations and that the ministry told him it was aware of other accusations
about the school. But the ministry advised him too many years had passed for it to take action, the documents say.
The province, represented at the certification hearing this week by lawyers William MacLarkey and John Kelly, is arguing, among other things, that the
breach of fiduciary duties allegation should be set aside.
No facts have been brought forward to establish that the Crown acted in its own self-interest and against the interests of the students at the time of
the allegations, the province says in its factum.
“There are no facts pleaded that would establish that the Crown’s interests were promoted by allowing the plaintiff(s) to be harmed,” the factum states.
The lawyers representing the former students are Kirk Baert, Celeste Poltak and Jonathan Bida of the downtown Toronto firm Koskie Minsky.
Baert also led a team that convinced an Ontario Superior Court judge in 2010 to certify a class-action suit representing former residents of the Huronia
Regional Centre who claimed they were beaten, sexually abused and subjected to degrading punishment.
In 2007, Baert won a $4 billion class action on behalf of aboriginal students of government-sanctioned residential schools.
Reproduced from http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1160628–former-students-of-a-brantford-school-for-the-blind-are-in-court-seeking-to-launch-class-action-suit-claiming-abuse-by-teachers-and-staff