Thursday, March 07, 2013

Class Action - Abuse in Residential Facility

At the end of last month, I met someone (L) over a social group's brunch. L happens to be a lawyer interested in legislative law, human rights law and similar areas. At one point, we started a general discussion about systemic abuses/atrocities. E.g. Those mentioned in the "Woodlands Class Action" law suit (see appendix below).

Although that happened almost 20 years ago (the residential Woodlands School was closed in 1996), I asked L regarding my concern (speaking as a foreign-trained nurse myself) that with a flood of foreign-trained nurses who often carry with us different cultural views on nursing ethics, how can we ensure that such systemic abuses/atrocities are not repeated?

L is of the view that training is important. Training to ensure that foreign-trained nurses and other healthcare workers understand and adhere to the Canadian standards for ethical healthcare delivery. I am inclined to agree with her that training is important. That said, from my observation and experience, the cultural aspects of healthcare delivery is one of the challenging areas to "train".


[Extracted from Klein Lyons Personal Injury & Class Action Law website on 07-Mar-2013.]


This is a class action for former residents of Woodlands School in New Westminster, British Columbia. Woodlands School was a residential facility operated by the Province of British Columbia for mentally disabled children and adults. The school closed in 1996.

A review of Woodlands School commissioned by the Province and conducted by a former provincial Ombudsman, Dulcie McCallum, found that there had been widespread sexual, physical and psychological abuse of Woodlands residents and that there were systemic problems with the Province’s operation of the school:

Names of the residents and staff involved with the incidents will remain private. Details of the physical abuse found in the records include hitting, kicking, smacking, slapping, striking, restraining, isolating, grabbing by the hair or limbs, dragging, pushing onto table, kicking and shoving, very cold showers, very hot baths resulting in burns to the skin, verbal abuse including swearing, bullying and belittling, inappropriate conduct such as extended isolation, wearing shackles and belt-leash with documented evidence of injuries including bruising, scratches, broking limbs, black eyes and swollen face.
A follow up investigation conducted by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee reached similar conclusions:

Stories that were told by the former residents included physical abuse such as being slapped or beaten, sexual abuse by staff or by other residents, having to work on the wards or for other businesses, being confined in side rooms or placed in restraints and losing their privileges. Residents talked about being afraid to speak up for fear they would be punished. They also spoke of the fear of watching or hearing another resident be abused. Some of the residents described how scary it was to live on a ward where they felt that the other residents were dangerous.
The Woodlands Project Team reviewed approximately 100,000 pages of resident files. Nearly 20% of the documents revealed at least one issue of concern. These issues ranged from actual reports of abuse, unexplained injuries or illnesses, unexpected behaviour changes, sexually transmitted diseases, sterilization and the use of birth control in Woodlands, heavy doses of medication, overcrowding, chronic infectious diseases like hepatitis and salmonella, forms of punishment including seclusion, restraints, restricted visits with family and withdrawal of food and privileges like being able to have coffee or to go out on the grounds alone.

The class action was originally certified as including all former residents but the class definition was recently limited to persons who lived at Woodlands on or after August 1, 1974. This is due to the operation of British Columbia’s Crown Proceeding Act which came into force on that date. The decision to limit the class is currently under appeal.

For information about the We Survived Woodlands Group:

For information about the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities Woodlands Campaign:

Court Ruling Excludes Pre–August 1, 1974 Residents From Lawsuit

People who lived at Woodlands, but moved out of the School before August 1, 1974, have been excluded from this lawsuit by a series of court decisions. [For more details, please refer to the Klein Lyons webpage on Woodlands Class Action.]

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