Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

Born Bad, a new documentary from CBC Docs POV, looks at the legacy of Ontario's training schools through the first-hand accounts of survivors.

Parabellum Pictures / Courtesy of CBC

The woman says, “I get it, we were bad kids. Obviously, that’s why we were sent there. But no matter how bad you are, you don’t deserve that.”

The woman is a survivor of what was the Ontario Training Schools system, and that was, in essence, a jail system for kids. To hear her story and that of a handful of others is to reckon with the very recent past, a past that is sometimes idealized and the source of sentimentality.

Born Bad (Saturday, CBC, 8 p.m. on CBC Docs POV, and CBC Gem) is at once gripping and difficult to watch. It is a journey into the personal hell of a small group of people. But they are representative of thousands of children who were incarcerated in these institutions – a network of 13 provincially operated detention facilities to house “troubled “children – between the 1930s and the early 1980s.

Story continues below advertisement

The 21 best TV series to stream so far in 2021

The idea was to stop bad kids from becoming adult criminals. Sometimes the children were sentenced to these “reform” schools by a judge and sometimes they were simply deposited at the institution by a parent or a social worker. Children as young as 8 were incarcerated, sometimes for something as minor as truancy or shoplifting.

The vast majority of these jailed kids were poor and if their stories stun you, it’s because it’s rare to hear the truth about the lives of the working poor in Canada.

It is a great and disturbing documentary by writer and director Marc de Guerre, meant to reveal the horrific abuses that took place in Ontario’s system, as a $600-million class-action lawsuit is now moving through the courts. Spare and hushed in tone, it’s a vital, must-see program and will certainly test your tolerance for exposure to the nightmare of the past.

It’s hard to even know where to begin. But there are distinct threads to the story. First, it was believed at one time that “juvenile delinquents” should be jailed, treated harshly and given some training to possibly lead to a life of work or good citizenship. But everything about how the system operated was actually undermining anything positive.

Second, the schools-that-were-really-jails were in small towns, far from where the kids grew up and had families. Most never had visitors. Third, the staff hired usually had no training in education and many were ex-military or ex-police. Violence against children was tolerated with a blitheness that is horrifying to hear now. One survivor, a middle-aged man now, tells how a so-called teacher burst both his eardrums with blows to the head and also broke his knee; the man shows a scar on his head from when the same teacher broke a garden rake on his head while beating him.

The kids in these jails often came from families with drug or alcohol problems. The system didn’t care about that; it only cared about locking up the kids.

It is a great and disturbing documentary by writer and director Marc de Guerre, meant to reveal the horrific abuses that took place in Ontario’s system, as a $600-million class-action lawsuit is now moving through the courts.

There is a point where Born Bad becomes very difficult viewing. A woman survivor says, very calmly, “It was a beautiful hunting ground. Nothing but teenage girls.” She then goes on to describe her experience of sexual abuse, the daily and nightly rituals the are now the stuff of excruciating anxiety. And yes, of course, the system attracted abusers and pedophiles.

The documentary also reminds us of something important in the culture. The vast majority of these jailed kids were poor and if their stories stun you, it’s because it’s rare to hear the truth about the lives of the working poor in Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

Also airing/streaming this weekend: The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back! (Sunday, CBS, 9 p.m.) promises “unforgettable performances” to commemorate the 74th annual Tony Awards for the 2019-2020 Broadway season. Among those appearing are Kristin Chenoweth, André De Shields, Jake Gyllenhaal, Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera and BD Wong. It’s good bet for fun times, as musical theatre is apparently back.

There are notable returning shows too: The Rookie (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 10 p.m.) returns to clarify what happened after one of the key characters was kidnapped. The Simpsons (Sunday, Fox, 8 p.m.) begins its umpteenth season with an all-musical episode, which features Kristen Bell as Marge’s singing voice.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies