Duplessis orphans want apology

About 100 survivors of the Duplessis-era orphanages marched in the streets of Montreal on Thursday. They staged demonstrations in front of the offices of Premier Lucien Bouchard and of Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte.

Most are aging now. At Thursday's protest some hobbled along on canes and walkers. Many wore straitjackets and tape over their mouths, demonstrating how they were treated as children and into adulthood at the hands of the nuns who ran the institutions where they were confined.

They were born to unwed mothers in the 1940s and 50s, the era when Maurice Duplessis was Quebec's premier. The children grew up in orphanages or psychiatric institutions run by religious orders.

They allege they were victims of profound physical and emotional abuse. But efforts to wrest an apology or compensation from the government or the Church have so far gone unheeded.

"Ether, shock treatments ... no criminal has suffered what I lived through for thirty years," says Paul St. Aubin. The 47-year-old was lobotomized many years ago. A decade ago, his mother found him and freed him. She'd been looking for him for 35 years. St. Aubin was taken from her as a newborn, when she gave birth to him out of wedlock.

Everyone at the demonstration had a similar story to tell, and they are frustrated by the silence of the government and the Church, faced with their demands for an inquiry and an apology.

Brian McDonough is the director of social affairs for the Catholic Church in Montreal. He says the Church is not ignoring the survivors, just treading carefully. "How do you evaluate the responsibility, the allegations of negligence? What criteria do you use? The criteria of 1999, of the 40s and 50s?"

Interestingly, McDonough confirms the Cardinal himself once worked as a chaplain at a hospital run by the Sisters of Providence, one of the very institutions where many of the orphans say abuses occurred. McDonough says Turcotte was not aware of any behaviour such as that alleged by the orphans. His recollection is that the children were treated with respect.