London

Lawsuit claims province failed to protect patients at London's Children and Parent Resource Institute

A class-action lawsuit filed by a Toronto law firm alleges the Ontario government failed to do enough to prevent alleged abuse of patients at a London facility for children with behavioural, developmental and psychiatric issues.

A class-action lawsuit filed by a Toronto law firm alleges the Ontario government failed to do enough to prevent alleged abuse of patients at a London facility for children with behavioural, developmental and psychiatric issues.

The $200-million lawsuit alleges that in its operation of the Children's Psychiatric Research Institute — which became the Children and Parent Resource Institute (CPRI) in 1992 — the Crown failed in its duty to prevent alleged incidents of physical, sexual and emotional abuse against residents. 

None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been proven in court. The lawsuit applies only to CPRI's residential centre, not the modern-day CPRI which operates many mental health programs from its location in west London.

"There was systemic negligence in the operation of the institution," lawyer Jody Brown of the firm Koskie Minsky told CBC London. He said the Crown failed to provide the standard of care to ensure patients "were safe from both staff abuse and abuse from other residents.

"If you have an institution where you're housing a 10-year-old who has attention deficit disorder alongside a 17-year-old who has a psychiatric disorder, the 10-year-old is in danger and you need to put something in place to prevent that," he said.

He said the alleged abuse ranges from beatings of residents by other residents and staff members, to "routine" sexual assaults, typically by other residents. 

The lawsuit's class-action status — which means all plaintiffs will be represented collectively — was approved in December 2016.  

Anyone who was an inpatient at CPRI between September 1, 1963 until July 1, 2011 will be considered part of the class action unless they opt out of the lawsuit before Oct. 20. It's estimated the lawsuit could include about 5,000 former residents.

After Oct. 20, the list of participants in the class-action suit can't be changed. 

Crown denies negligence

In a statement of defence, the Crown denies the plaintiffs' allegations and says CPRI patients received quality care by well-trained staff in a safe, supervised environment. 

"Throughout their time at CPRI, children and youth received supervision, treatment, education and training and guidance in accordance with the highest standards of care appropriate to their needs and abilities.

"The Crown specifically denies that such abuse or neglect resulted from any failure on the part of the Crown to meet applicable standards of care."

The statement of defence also says CPRI has received "widespread praise" for its work with children. 

The lawsuit has a representative plaintiff, whose claim is filed on behalf of the larger group.

He's now 51 but was 16 when he was admitted to CPRI as a full-time resident from 1982 to 1983.

Brown says he was "traumatized" by his stay at CPRI.  

The statement of claim alleges the representative client was repeatedly called "worthless" by CPRI staff and told he would "never amount to anything." 

The lawsuit alleges he witnessed "the repeated and continuous abuse and punishment of residents by CPRI staff and other residents.

The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which currently operates CPRI, said there would be no comments about the lawsuit. 

In a statement to CBC London, the Ministry said the class-action certification is a "procedural step" that does not "address the merits of the claim."

The statement goes on to say:

"Children and families will continue to receive services throughout the proceedings. We remain committed to providing services and support to children and youth and their families."