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Duplessis Orphans: Apology and amends

During the reign of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis in the 1940s and 1950s, an alarming number of healthy children living in sanctuaries were hastily diagnosed as mentally incompetent, psychotic patients. The diagnoses were always swift — the children went to bed orphans and woke up psychiatric patients. The reason? Shrewd fiscal planning; federal subsidies paid out more to hospitals than to orphanages. Some children allegedly endured lobotomies, electroshock, straitjackets and abuse. For the rest of their lives they would struggle to bring attention to their story and demand compensation. They called themselves the Duplessis Orphans.

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Quebec Premier Bernard Landry has extended a "fault-free" offer of compensation to the Duplessis Orphans. "It was the acceptance by our society of a sombre episode in our history," Landry said before a news conference. Each person will receive a $10,000 lump sum and $1,000 for every year spent in an asylum, which translates into roughly $25,000 per person. The orphans had been hoping for a larger settlement but choose to accept the offer, as shown in this CBC Television News clip. 
• When presented with Landry's offer, the Duplessis Orphans proposed a counter-offer of an average settlement of $50,000 per person. The government refused this request.
• The Orphans also had to agree to drop any further legal continuations against the church as part of the package. Approximately 1500 of the Orphans qualified for compensation.

• "[The Duplessis Orphans] accepted the offer unanimously but with a very clear message, that even if this offer is insufficient, they are accepting it because they are reaching the ends of their lives." -- Bruno Roy in the Toronto Star, July 1, 2001

• Many of the Duplessis Orphans were excluded from the settlement. Only those who had been improperly diagnosed as mentally deficient were included in the offer.
• Gazette editorial writer Janet Bagnall criticized Landry's offer, arguing that the average Canadian criminal court award for sexual abuse was $250,000.

• Bagnall also took issue with Landry's narrow definition of who should receive compensation. "Sexually abused as a child in a religious institution? That doesn't count. Physically abused? No again. Exploited and denied an education while living in a religious institution wasn't enough, either, according to the government. The only people entitled to compensation were those who were wrongly labeled mentally deficient," Bagnall wrote in her Gazette editorial on Aug. 23, 2001.

• As of 2005, neither the Catholic Church nor the Quebec College of Physicians has acknowledged wrongdoing regarding the Duplessis Orphans' accusations.
Medium: Television
Program: Canada Now
Broadcast Date: July 3, 2001
Guest(s): Bernard Landry, Bruno Roy
Reporter: Michel Godbout
Duration: 1:58

Last updated: July 16, 2013

Page consulted on November 14, 2014

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