Today, beginning at 11:00 a.m. the Duplessis orphans from across Quebec will protest in front of Prime Minister Bouchard's Montreal office and approximately at 12:30 a.m. they will leave to protest in front of Monsignor Jean-Claude Turcotte's office.
The protesters will be wearing the straightjackets they were forced to wear as children while detained in psychiatric hospitals, their months will also be taped shut to symbolize the silence of Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard.
These innocent victims have now waited for over two years for Premier Bouchard to honour his numerous promises to personally handle their case. These promises were made before Quebec's National Assembly as early as 1997. Meanwhile Archbishop Turcotte has refrained from speaking out about their situation.
In the 1940s and 1950s, at a time when the Catholic Church banned the use of contraceptives (considered a mortal sin), thousands of children were made wards of the state and raised in large orphanages operated by the Catholic Church. At the time, because the Quebec government wished to continue receiving federal government subsidies, Quebec's Premier Maurice Duplessis and the Catholic Church agreed, for example, to convert the Mont-Providence orphanage into a mental asylum, in exchange for $3 million. Under the orders of the Quebec government and the Catholic Church, doctors altered the medical records of orphans and they were labelled mentally deficient they then received treatments normally reserved for such patients: straightjackets, electroshocks, excessive medication, placed in cells and even tortured. They were abused physically and in some cases even sexually by the religious personnel and their staff. Some were even lobotomized. Others were reduced to slavery, working without pay to perform such tasks as bathing mentally ill patients.
It should be noted that while the Catholic Church received government subsidies for the care of an orphan, they could get three times as much for the care of mental patient. Financial profit thus clearly influenced the classification of innocent children as mentally ill. Many of these facts are outlined in a 1997 report by the Quebec Ombudsman Daniel Jacoby, which indicates that the Quebec government was able to keep its share of the cost of caring for orphans to a minimum by placing these children in Church-owned psychiatric hospitals which were eligible for Federal subsidies. Therefore, it is clear that the Quebec government also profited financially from this situation. The 3,000 innocent victims are among the most vulnerable people in society. Without money and education, they lack the resources required for a long struggle to achieve justice. This situation must be resolved.
They have officially asked Premier Bouchard for a public inquiry. This is important especially in light of the report released yesterday by Quebec's Public Curator on the Rivières-des-Prairies asylum where many of these children were detained (formerly Mont-Providence). The government and the Catholic Church must hone up to their wrongdoings and accept responsibility for their actions. Quebec is the only Canadian province where this has failed to occur. Duplessis' Orphans have lost much as a result of this situation. Almost all have lost the chance to lead a normal life, to have a career and live life without dealing with the mental anguish brought on by horrible memories of abuse.
A joint study conducted by McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital of Montreal in 1997, comparing the mental health status of Duplessis' Orphans with that of low-income respondents (earning $10,000 or less), found significant differences between the two groups. The study revealed that for every health indicator (including indicators of stress, chronic illness, suicide and personal problems), Duplessis' Orphans fared much worse than the comparison group. For example, 54% of Duplessis' Orphans had seriously considered committing suicide, as compared to 16.9% of the comparison group of the poorest people.
This on-going scandal must come to an end. Quebec's Premier Lucien Bouchard must follow up on the numerous public promises he has made since 1997, promises which he occasionally makes when quizzed by the media, promises which he has thus far failed to act on. Has Mr. Bouchard forgotten all about these innocent victims? For his part, the leader of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Turcotte remains hidden behind a wall of silence and continues to shy away from the media. They may be silent but Duplessis' Orphans will be silent no longer!