March 1, 1999

The Duplessis Orphans Committee - Who's shame is this?

Three Duplessis orphans have come forward to recount and make public the atrocities committed against them as children while they were wards of the Quebec Government and housed in Catholic institutions. This took place at a press conference today organized by the Duplessis Orphans Committee, where the victims' testimonials were heard and where proof of their abuse, in the way of historical documents and their own medical records, were released to the media.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, who recently demanded proof of the abuse and who was publicly invited to this event, was not present. Neither was Premier Lucien Bouchard who has repeatedly stated his commitment to take care of this issue personally.

Cardinal Turcotte has come under fire recently for defending the church and their actions during the 1940s and 1950s when 3,000 or so children born out-of-wedlock or into poverty were made wards of the Quebec Government, placed in Catholic institutions and declared mentally deficient in order for the Church to profit from greater Government subsidies. The Catholic institutions could get as much as three times more for the upkeep of a psychiatric patient than for the care of a normal child. These children endured numerous psychological, physical and sexual abuse as well as being stigmatized by the so-called shameful circumstances of their birth. Despite Cardinal Turcotte's defence of the religious communities involved, he has until now claimed to not have sufficient knowledge regarding these cases.

``We have been made to feel ashamed of our past, of our circumstances.'' said Bruno Roy, President of the Duplessis Orphans Committee. ``But it is the Catholic Church and the Quebec Government who must face their shame. It is their acts that have been shameful. Aren't little children born without sin in the eyes of the church? Then tell me who has sinned here!''

Mr. Roy, who himself is a Duplessis Orphan, stated the scandal was created by the orders of then-Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis. ``The lack of action of the present day Bouchard Government, however, are what have now made this a national shame.'' he added. One of the victims to testify was Clarina Duguay, who told how, at the age of 12, a nun sexually abused her at the St-Julien Psychiatric Hospital. This nun, responsible for taking care of the children during bath time, would only hand wash the girl's breasts, telling her ``You can wash your own back.''

Another victim, Hervé Bertrand, recounted his tragic experience at the Mount-Providence institution where he was sodomized over 30 times by a staff member. Mr. Bertrand, who presented medical records to support his claim, stated he is also prepared to undergo a polygraph test concerning his allegations.

Mr. Bertrand, who was tragically declared mentally deficient by the institution's medical personnel (like most other Duplessis orphans), underwent a psychiatric assessment in 1994 where the psychiatrist wrote, ``He has no mental deficiency nor psychiatric illness. In our opinion, his admission was done for social reasons.''

Because of pressure from the Duplessis Orphans Committee, it appears that Quebec's College of Physicians will soon arrange to finally correct medical records and officially erase this mention of mental illness from their files.

In a moving testimony, another victim, Myriam Kelly, testified at the press conference that she was placed in a cell, restrained in a straitjacket, and forced by a nun to eat a mouse. She was severely and repeatedly beaten and the medical records she provided as evidence also state that she was struck with a hammer. The testimony of a nun who gave a magazine interview was read out loud. She stated that while she worked at such an institution, children between the ages of two and 13 were beaten with a leather strap and neglected by the personnel. Upset by what she witnessed, she spoke to the Mother Superior, who did not seem surprised by the disturbing details. The nun finally asked to be transferred out of the institution because she found it too painful to witness the abuse. She was so shaken by her life there that she could not sleep many nights thinking about the cruelty of ice-cold showers, beatings and torture that she had seen. She described that there were absolutely no activities planned for the children and they often spent their days rocking themselves for comfort. She added `` It could make a sane child sick.''

Last to speak was Dr. Jean Gaudreau, a psychologist who, in 1994, published his recollections of his first visit in 1961 to Mt. Providence Psychiatric Hospital. He told how, on his first day, his first visiting patient was a five-year-old boy who was bound in a straitjacket and tied to a sink that morning. He recalled how he had to insist in order for the attending nun to release the so-called violent child who, it turned out, was not.

The Duplessis Orphans Committee has called for an inquiry by the Quebec Government. Cardinal Turcotte stated in the Saturday edition of La Presse that it is his belief that these victims' stories are isolated cases, that the nuns were dedicated to these children, and if the orphans feel they have a case, they should sue or address themselves to the religious communities involved. As for a public inquiry, he has agreed that his church would willingly participate in a public inquiry if the Quebec Government believes it to be the best way to establish the truth. However, he also stated ``I still believe that the bad treatments, if there were any, were isolated cases.'' Premier Bouchard has yet to speak on this issue.

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