At the age of 12, Marion Whaley says, her family put her in the Woodlands Institution in New Westminster, B.C. At 19, staff removed all her teeth because they said she was a "biter."
She said she was later raped by an employee, but an institution official warned her not to complain because the alleged perpetrator had a family to support.
Ms. Whaley, 59, entered Woodlands in 1957 and lived there 27 years. She said that whenever she drives by the institution she feels physically ill.
Woodlands closed its doors in 1996, part of a continent-wide move away from institutionalizing the mentally ill and disabled. Today, the ivy-covered structure is often used as a movie set. At its peak in the 1950s, however, it housed more than 1,700 people ranging in age from babies to seniors. They were called mentally retarded back then, a label former residents say was probably a factor in the routine abuse many staff inflicted.
A report prepared for the provincial government and released yesterday confirmed what former residents and their families have been saying for years: that sexual and physical abuses, including beatings, cold showers, burn-inducing hot baths, extended isolation and sexual assaults were rampant at the institution.
The report, prepared by former B.C. ombudsman Dulcie McCallum, also said parents weren't told of the abuse and few cases were reported to police.
Ms. McCallum's report was based on a review of personnel and resident files. She concluded that abuse occurred in about 50 cases.Ms. McCallum also found unexpected deaths that happened in "questionable circumstances."
The report says the abuse was systemic and fuelled by a "code of silence" among employees. Many victims were unable to protect themselves; some couldn't speak or hear.
"A highly vulnerable population lived in an environment where perpetrators' abusive behaviour could potentially go largely undetected and underreported," Ms. McCallum's 36-page report says. She calls on the provincial government to investigate abuse claims further and apologize to victims.
However, in an interview, Children and Family Development Minister Gordon Hogg said the investigation is closed and the government will now meet with families to discuss compensation.
Mr. Hogg said the government will also make the files of residents available to family members.
Woodlands opened in 1878 as an insane asylum. In the 1930s, it began offering training and education. Ms. McCallum's report says family doctors put pressure on many parents to institutionalize their disabled children. At the time, public schools barred handicapped children, so Woodlands was the only place to receive training.
Eventually, the parents of residents got together and lobbied to close the institution.
About 1,700 former residents of Woodlands are still living.