Copied from the Montreal Gazette

Monday 28 May 2001

Unions call Landry on orphans promise


Quebec labour unions called on Premier Bernard Landry yesterday to fulfil promises he made as finance minister to compensate the Duplessis orphans adequately.

The leaders, who represent more than 900,000 workers, reminded Landry that's it's been a year since he said he would re-examine the orphans' case.

"One has to be narrow-minded not to think of a solution," said Marc Laviolette, head of the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux, in recalling Landry's comments to members of the orphans' support committee last year.

The unions want the government to move quickly to establish a just compensation for 1,500 of the Duplessis orphans who were wrongly classified as mentally deficient or insane and transferred from church-run orphanages to asylums in the 1940s and '50s.

The false labeling occurred when Maurice Duplessis was premier so the orphanages would receive more federal financial aid.

Union leaders recalled the provincial ombudsman's suggestion of a compensation package of $30,000 to $40,000 for each orphan, which has already been rejected as inadequate.

When deputy premier and finance minister, Landry had promised to review the issue, ''and not just through the eyes of a finance minister,'' as he put it. He also volunteered that he has two sisters who were adopted from a Duplessis institution.

The unions are also calling on the government to correct the orphans' medical files, which still contain false information about mental retardation or deficiencies.

About 1,000 Duplessis orphans are still alive but many live in extreme poverty and suffer from psychological problems, loneliness and depression. There is also a high suicide rate among the group.

Landry hasn't wavered, said psychiatrist and former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Denis Lazure, speaking on behalf of the support committee for justice for the Duplessis orphans.

"I know Mr. Landry well enough to be sure that he didn't change his mind," said Lazure, in reference to his long-standing friendship with the premier.

Now with the support of Quebec's unions, "I'm optimistic that a solution will be found quickly," he said.