By Michelle Ruby
Brantford Expositor, Apr.6, 2017
Bob Seed said he’s overcome with relief over a tentative agreement that could result in compensation for former visually impaired, blind and deafblind students at W. Ross Macdonald School who were allegedly abused over a span of more than 60 years.
“I’m over the moon,” said Seed, a former W. Ross Macdonald student and plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit brought against the Province of Ontario, which operates the school. “It’s a huge burden lifted off my shoulders.”
For years, Seed said he has been consumed by the lawsuit, which addresses allegations of “physical, sexual, and mental abuse and harm” to former students. On Tuesday, it was announced that a tentative deal between the province and lawyers in the class-action had been reached. If approved by the court, the $8-million settlement would be used to provide compensation to eligible students who were harmed while at the Brantford school between Jan. 1, 1951 and May 4, 2012, the Ministry of the Attorney General said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. The settlement must now be approved by the court after notice is provided to the class members. The court will hold a settlement approval hearing in the coming months at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto.
A common issues trial in the case was set to start on Tuesday. Instead both sides agreed to a settlement.
Allegations, which have not been proven in court, include both “student on student and staff on student” abuse, said Jody Brown, of the Toronto law firm Koskie Minsky LLP, which was appointed by the court as “class counsel.”
According to the law firm, the lawsuit says that the province was negligent in the management and operation of the school, resulting in systemic physical, sexual, and mental abuse and harm to the former students. The province denies the claims.
Brown said among the allegations are students being hit, kicked and pushed and of inappropriate sexual touching of students by staff members, and of staff members watching students in showers.
Seed, who came to W. Ross Macdonald in 1954 when he was eight and left when he was 19, said physical assaults would include staff beating, shoving, throwing books and other equipment at students, making students drink from urinals, and grabbing children by the hair.
Seed said he was hit several times by a teacher and another staff member made sexual advances toward him.
“When I was in Grade 8 there was a teacher who was very abusive,” said Seed. “He went ballistic when I couldn’t answer a math question. I thought I would be killed.
“He would throw Braillers and books at kids. He put terror into us.”
Seed said there was a “boot camp mentality” at the school at the time and he lived in fear. He felt that reporting the abuse would result in retaliation by staff against him.
Like many students at the residential school, Seed lived there 10 months of the year, returning home to Thunder Bay only in the summer.
Brown stressed that the allegations are isolated incidents involving a number of staff members, who have since died.
“It happened a lot at these residential-type of facilities where there were inherently vulnerable children extremely isolated from their family connections.”
Seed, who said there were also staff who were nurturing and supportive when he attended W. Ross Macdonald School, decided to proceed with the lawsuit in 2011 and has spent years travelling to Toronto to meet with lawyers. He said he also spent countless hours contacting former W. Ross Macdonald School students and listening to their stories, many of which he said are more horrific than his own.
“It takes a lot out of you,” said Seed, now 71. “At the end of the day I might get nothing out of this but knowing their plight will be dealt with in a fair and just way makes me pretty happy.”
Brown called the settlement a compromise that provides “a pot of money” and the opportunity for people to make claims in a “simplified procedure rather than drag it out in trial.
“Individuals will not be cross-examined and have confidential, intimate details of their life paraded in front of the court.”
According to Brown, the amount of benefits that class members can receive will depend on the level of harm suffered. If the court approves the proposed settlement, class members will have to submit a claim form to receive benefits.
Brown said the potential number of class members is 1,200 to 1,500 but the number who opt to participate will be “significantly smaller.”
He said the law firm was in contact with more than 200 people who had “varying degrees of experiences” at the school.
More information will be available at http://www.kmlaw.ca/wrossmacdonaldclassaction or by calling 1-888-233-2852.