The former Nanaimo Indian Hospital has been named in a $1.1-billion class action lawsuit against the Canadian government.
A statement of claim was filed in the Federal Court of Canada on Jan. 25, on behalf of aboriginal people who were patients of 29 government-run Indian hospitals, which the lawsuit alleges were overcrowded, poorly staffed, unsanitary and had widespread physical and sexual abuse like beating with rods and sticks and physical restraint to beds.
Ann Cecile Hardy of Edmonton, the plaintiff, was admitted to the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital with tuberculosis in 1969 when she was 10 and the claim says while there, she was repeatedly sexually abused by medical technicians at the hospital and also witnessed other patients being sexually abused.
Indian hospitals were part of a separate health care system for indigenous people, which the claim says were initially limited to those who contracted or were suspected to have tuberculosis, but other illnesses were subsequently treated.
A facility opened in Nanaimo in 1946 in an old military hospital near Vancouver Island University and had 210 beds, which made it second in size to Charles Camsell Hospital in Alberta, shows ‘Indian’ Hospitals and Tuberculosis in Canada: a mini history by Laurie Meijer Drees, chairwoman of indigenous studies at Vancouver Island University.
By the time the hospital closed in 1966, the Nanaimo Daily Free Press reported it had seen 14,000, or more, patients from Vancouver Island.
Steven Cooper with Cooper Regel, co-counsel, said this case is coming to the courts now because one or more of the survivors is finding a place in life and the strength to tell the stories, and more scholarly work has been done lately on the Indian Hospital system.
These cases are never just about compensation, he said, and like any other situation, when an institution and in this case a government or even an individual, causes harm, they are brought to account in the civil system.
“When you have these historical injustices, these historical damages, it’s an opportunity for the survivors to take control of their own history, their own lives, to bring these things to the knowledge of Canadians,” he said.
The Office of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett stated in an e-mail that Canada is committed to righting historical wrongs committed against indigenous people.
“While the Government of Canada respects the decision of plaintiffs to pursue their claims through the courts, Canada believes that the best way to address outstanding issues and achieve reconciliation with indigenous people is through negotiation and dialogue rather than litigation,” it said. “We are committed to working with all parties involved to explore mechanisms outside the adversarial court process to deal with these claims.”
Cooper said he agrees these things are best solved around the table, but context is still needed and in Canada, that context in these cases are class actions.
“We will proceed to court and look to get the class certified and hope concurrently that the government will carry out their promise to talk to us,” he said. “We are not anxious to run a trial on this, we are not anxious to get anything other than a proper, fair and quick settlement where that’s possible.”