Woodlands Class Action Case Overview

This is a class action for former residents of Woodlands School in New Westminster, British Columbia. Woodlands School was a residential facility operated by the Province of British Columbia for mentally disabled children and adults. The school closed in 1996.

A review of Woodlands School commissioned by the Province and conducted by a former provincial Ombudsman, Dulcie McCallum, found that there had been widespread sexual, physical and psychological abuse of Woodlands residents and that there were systemic problems with the Province’s operation of the school:

Names of the residents and staff involved with the incidents will remain private. Details of the physical abuse found in the records include hitting, kicking, smacking, slapping, striking, restraining, isolating, grabbing by the hair or limbs, dragging, pushing onto table, kicking and shoving, very cold showers, very hot baths resulting in burns to the skin, verbal abuse including swearing, bullying and belittling, inappropriate conduct such as extended isolation, wearing shackles and belt-leash with documented evidence of injuries including bruising, scratches, broking limbs, black eyes and swollen face.

A follow up investigation conducted by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee reached similar conclusions:

Stories that were told by the former residents included physical abuse such as being slapped or beaten, sexual abuse by staff or by other residents, having to work on the wards or for other businesses, being confined in side rooms or placed in restraints and losing their privileges. Residents talked about being afraid to speak up for fear they would be punished. They also spoke of the fear of watching or hearing another resident be abused. Some of the residents described how scary it was to live on a ward where they felt that the other residents were dangerous.

The Woodlands Project Team reviewed approximately 100,000 pages of resident files. Nearly 20% of the documents revealed at least one issue of concern. These issues ranged from actual reports of abuse, unexplained injuries or illnesses, unexpected behavior changes, sexually transmitted diseases, sterilization and the use of birth control in Woodlands, heavy doses of medication, overcrowding, chronic infectious diseases like hepatitis and salmonella, forms of punishment including seclusion, restraints, restricted visits with family and withdrawal of food and privileges like being able to have coffee or to go out on the grounds alone.

The class action was originally certified as including all former residents but the class definition was recently limited to persons who lived at Woodlands on or after August 1, 1974. This is due to the operation of British Columbia’s Crown Proceeding Act which came into force on that date. The decision to limit the class is currently under appeal.

For information about the We Survived Woodlands Group:

http://www.wesurvivedwoodlands.org/

For information about the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities Woodlands Campaign:

http://www.bccpd.bc.ca/campaigns/woodlands/default.htm#over

Court Ruling Excludes Pre–August 1, 1974 Residents From Lawsuit

People who lived at Woodlands, but moved out of the School before August 1, 1974, have been excluded from this lawsuit by a series of court decisions.

This class action was started for everyone who lived at Woodlands. Unfortunately, the government brought a court application to exclude residents who moved out of Woodlands before August 1, 1974. That application was granted by the British Columbia Supreme Court. This means that the lawsuit now includes only people who lived at Woodlands on August 1, 1974 or later. We appealed the decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal, but we did not win the appeal. We then applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but leave was denied. You can read the decisions of the British Columbia Supreme Court and British Columbia Court of Appeal here.

The reason people who lived at Woodlands before August 1, 1974 have been excluded is as follows. Until 1974 it was not possible for people in British Columbia to sue the B.C. government except in very limited circumstances. In 1974, British Columbia passed a statute allowing it to be sued for wrongs it had committed. In the Woodlands lawsuit, the government argued that because the statute did not exist until August 1, 1974, it could not be sued for anything it did wrong before August 1, 1974. Both the British Columbia Supreme Court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled in the government’s favour.

The refusal of the Supreme Court of Canada to hear our appeal, means that there are no further legal steps that can be taken for the pre–August 1, 1974 Woodlands Residents. There are, however, many Woodlands residents and their supporters who are continuing to pursue this matter politically and in the press. These residents meet regularly to strategize, socialize and provide each other with support. You can obtain more information about the “We Survived Woodlands Support Group” here.

For more informatiion on this class action call 604-714-6533