Class-action suit filed over Indian Hospitals
Ann Hardy was 10 years old when she contracted tuberculosis, said goodbye to her Metis family in Fort Smith, N.W.T., and was taken to the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton in 1969.
Over five months, she was treated for the infectious disease in the segregated facility but said she was also sexually assaulted several times by an X-ray technician.
An 11-year-old girl she shared a room with also received small gifts and night time visits from an orderly, she says.
“He would crawl into her bed and he did sexually assault her,” recalled Hardy, now 59.
“I felt guilt for many, many years because I wasn’t able to help her.”
Hardy is now hoping to help all the former patients she can as the lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging abuse at the 29 Indian Hospitals the federal government ran from 1945 until the last one closed in 1981.
A statement of claim filed last week in Toronto federal court says Indigenous patients suffered consistent physical and sexual assaults, were deprived of food and drink, force-fed their own vomit and unnecessarily restrained in their beds.
The suit further describes the hospitals as unsanitary, crumbling and staffed by many foreign-trained doctors who failed to qualify to practise medicine in Canada.
“Canada ignored, remained wilfully blind and permitted harm to patient class members in order to avoid scrutiny and unwanted publicity about its inappropriate, common practices and procedures concerning Indian Hospitals,” says the suit.
Steve Cooper, a lawyer in Sherwood Park, said his firm and two others in Ontario are representing about 30 former patients in the lawsuit so far. He expects there will be more.
“These are large institutions that were operating for decades,” he said. “If the residential school system told us anything, it’s probably larger than we expect at the beginning, and we expect something in the range of 10,000 people.”
A statement of defence has yet to be filed and a judge must first approve the suit as a class action.
An email from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said the government is working to resolve the matter out of court.
“Canada is committed to righting historical wrongs committed against Indigenous people,” said the email. “Canada believes that the best way to address outstanding issues and achieve reconciliation with Indigenous people is through negotiation and dialogue rather than litigation.”