The B.C. government will be compensating former residents and survivors of the Woodlands institution, following years of sexual, physical and psychological abuse reported by many who sought care there.
Survivors who attended the institution in New Westminster before Aug. 1, 1974 will receive $10,000 ex-gratia, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Saturday. That means that while the government will compensate, it doesn’t admit liability.
“When one experiences pain and suffering, it doesn’t matter if it happened before August 1, 1974 or after… Pain and suffering that was visited upon us is abuse,” institution survivor Bill McArthur said Saturday.
“It was not right then, it is not right now, and it will never be right.”
McArthur was one of an estimated 1,500 survivors still alive that was placed into the institution between 1950 and 1970. A 2009 class-action lawsuit determined that about 1,100 people would be compensated by the province, but those who attended the school before Aug. 1 1974 were left out because the province wasn’t responsible for the residents’ care until then.
“The B.C. government has never truly acknowledged the pain and suffering experienced at Woodlands,” Dix said.
Health Minister Adrian Dix announced ex-gratia compensation Saturday for Woodlands survivors, like Bill McArthur (right) who were left out of class-action lawsuit led by David Klein of Klein Lawyers. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media
Those who did receive some compensation, between $1,200 and $5,000 for most, will be topped up to the $10,000, the province said in a statement.
Disability Alliance BC’s Jane Dyson called the compensation bittersweet.
“Sadly, we have seen Woodlands survivors die waiting for this day,” she said. “But today is a good day, a day to move forward and a day to celebrate.”
Memories of abuse still vivid for survivors
Woodlands was an institution formerly known as Woodlands School, and opened in 1878, intended to provide care for children and adults with developmental disabilities and some with mental illness.
In the late 1990s, reports of tragic and concerning abuse were confirmed by a 2002 investigation by ombudsperson Dulcie McCallum, confirming what some of B.C.’s most vulnerable residents claimed to have experienced.
The institution was shut down in 1996.
Later, in 2011, the building was demolished and replaced with a park. Throughout the property, surrounded by new housing developments, deceased Woodlands’ residents are memorialized onto a dozen cenotaphs.
Standing amid hundreds of plaques honouring fellow survivors, McArthur told stories of some of the abuse he faced on the institution’s grounds as young as five, when he was put into Woodlands’ care.
Before asking for a moment of silence in honour of fellow survivors, he recalled ice-cold showers, beatings and rape.
Some of the vivid memories included being a child, being forced to line up naked in a hallway to use the bathroom, feeling “like cattle on the way to a slaughterhouse.” If they didn’t move quickly enough, they were beaten with brooms or punches to the head, he recalled.
And while he suffered through his own share of abuse, McArthur was forced to watch others in their own pain.
“This was deliberate action by the people who were charged with the responsibility of caring for us in a humane manner, and who failed to do so egregiously,” he said.
“…Occasionally I have nightmares of what happened to me and what I have witnessed in this life.”
Letting out a few tears while hugging Dix, McArthur told the crowd justice has finally been found.
“Today acknowledges and vindicates Woodlands survivors, who I hope can live the rest of their lives with a sense of self-respect and dignity,” he said.
The province expects to identify and contact former residents in the coming weeks, with payments made in full by March 2019 totaling between $9 million and $15 million.