It was Jack White's dream job: working with developmentally handicapped children at the very treatment centre where he had suffered 12 years of institutional abuse at a time when such horrors were commonplace.
But what might have been a Hollywood script for a feel-good movie went badly awry in 1993, when Mr. White was himself convicted of sexually abusing a helpless resident and fired.
Sixteen years later, Mr. White has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to help exonerate him. He maintains that his life was ruined by two miscarriages of justice - the first, when the system incorrectly incarcerated him as being mentally deficient; and second, when a resentful co-worker framed him for the sexual assault.
"I want the stain removed from my name," Mr. White, 64, said in an interview. "Society will finally be told that it didn't happen."
Abandoned at birth by his mother, Mr. White spent nine years in foster homes before he was transferred to Huronia based on a theory that he was incapable of learning.
On Monday, Mr. White described sexual and psychological abuse the children endured - such as being stripped naked and forced to stick their noses between one another's buttocks; and standing inside rings of flaming alcohol.
"I can see the pictures in my mind," he said, breaking down in tears. "It is not an easy thing to talk about."
Upon turning 21, Mr. White was released. Several years later, he took two years of social work training and was hired by Huronia as a counsellor. He spent the next 23 years working with children who were severely disabled by autism or other mental afflictions.
"I always treated the residents as my sisters and brothers, because I was once there myself," Mr. White said. "I treated them like human beings and my friends. I liked getting the paycheque, but it wasn't a job."
Mr. White was hailed as a hero who had soared above his tragic beginnings, and was once selected as Orillia's volunteer of the year.
However, in 1989, Mr. White co-wrote a hard-hitting report documenting alleged episodes of abuse at Huronia. Soon afterwards, a fellow counsellor, Daniel Wither, lodged a complaint claiming that the report implicitly identified him as an abuser.
Four years later, Mr. Wither accused Mr. White of grabbing the breast of a severely handicapped resident after showering her. He said that Mr. White had joked: "Have you ever seen a body like this before? Have you ever seen such a nice tit in your life?"
Being incapable of speech, the 38-year-old resident could not confirm or deny the alleged incident.
An hour into Mr. White's trial on March 28, 1995, his lawyer surprised him by offering no defence. "I turned and said: 'What? Aren't you going to put me on the stand?' " Mr. White recalled. "He thought that he had destroyed Wither. And he did destroy him! But my lawyer forgot one thing … you have to rebut what the guy says."
After deliberating for 62 minutes, the jury convicted Mr. White. The trial judge noted that Mr. White was "legendary" at Huronia for his dedication, and gave him a suspended sentence.
"Being bitter and upset wasn't going to help me," Mr. White said Monday. "Let the law take care of this man [Mr. Wither] I'll fight to get my name cleared."
In 1999, the Grievance Settlement Board ended a 29-day hearing into the case by ruling that there was "overwhelming evidence" that no sexual assault had ever occurred. It said that Mr. White had been wrongly convicted because of an incompetent defence and a lying witness who "held ill-will" towards Mr. White. The board rejected Mr. Wither's accusations as "not credible in the extreme."
However, its ruling was quashed on appeal on the basis that grievance boards lack the power to overturn a court's verdict. His battle apparently stymied, Mr. White began to eke out an existence on welfare and handyman jobs.
Should the Supreme Court agree with AIDWYC lawyers James Lockyer and Joanne McLean later this fall that the case ought to be reopened, the Ontario Court of Appeal will consider fresh evidence in the case.
"This chap has really been bashed around - first by Huronia and then by the judicial system," Mr. Lockyer said Monday. "He was sent to live with people who are seriously mentally handicapped when he was not, and then, having come through it, he went down again. It is terrible."