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Quebec Pressured Over Child Abuse

February 17, 1999

TORONTO (AP) _ The Quebec government is coming under increasing pressure to provide an apology and compensation to an estimated 3,000 people who were kept in mental institutions as children after being abandoned by their parents.

Many of the so-called Duplessis Orphans _ who were falsely designated as retarded _ say they were beaten and sexually molested at church-run institutions during the 1940s and ’50s. It is considered one of the largest cases of child abuse in North America.

The Quebec government said in December that it would soon make a ``public declaration″ about the orphans’ treatment, but it has not committed itself yet to either a formal apology or to compensation.

The surviving orphans want the government to convene an official inquiry into their treatment as a first step toward arranging compensation.

A protest is planned Thursday in Montreal at which scores of orphans plan to wear straitjackets _ a reminder that many of them were sometimes confined to straitjackets at mental institutions.

Most of the Duplessis Orphans were children born to single mothers and left in the care of Roman Catholic Church orphanages during the period when Maurice Duplessis was premier of Quebec.

Because more government funding was available for care of mentally retarded children than for care of orphans, many of the children were designated as retarded.

In the early 1990s, many of the orphans tried to file a class-action suit seeking damages, but the effort was rebuffed in the courts. Scores of orphans then tried to lodge criminal charges against individual monks, nuns and other staff at the facilities, but the government declined to prosecute the cases.

Carlo Tarini, a spokesman for the orphans, said Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard promised in 1997 that he would address the orphans’ concerns.

``He’s trying to dodge it,″ Tarini said. ``He’s passing the buck.″

Bouchard says the issue is difficult because so many different government departments had a role in the orphans’ plight. He and other officials have met with representatives of the orphans, but so far there has been no compensation offer even though a government ombudsman recommended payments two years ago.

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