Cornwall woman alleges abuse at school for the blind, $200M suit filed

Cornwall woman alleges abuse at school for the blind, $200M suit filed
Carol Hutt

CORNWALL, Ontario – A Cornwall woman who endured a nightmarish childhood at a school for the blind in southern Ontario is speaking out.

Carol Hutt is part of a class-action lawsuit that has been filed against the provincial government for alleged abuses that took place at W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind, located in Brantford.

The $200-million suit claims students at the school suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of staff over many decades.

According to the plaintiffs, the school’s caregivers – known as “house mothers” and “house fathers” – took advantage of the students’ disabilities and used physical violence and degrading tactics as a means of discipline.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

“No one ever believed us when we spoke out about the abuse we endured,” said Hutt, 57. “By sharing my experiences today, I hope that I can encourage others to come forward and do the same. We need to come together.

“We deserve justice.”

On many occasions her condition, which left her totally blind, would result in blisters on her eyes that would sear with pain.

But unless she presented herself to the nurse at the school on the day when an ophthalmologist was available (usually a Tuesday) her complaints of pain were brushed off or otherwise ignored.

“On a scale of one to 10 the pain was a 10,” she said. “I wasn’t believed.

“(The nurse) would jerk my head around and she was very aggressive about having to call an ophthalmologist in.”

Often Hutt simply had to endure the pain that burned its way into her head.

“It was traumatizing,” she added. “I cried with pain.”

Hutt said similar stories are told by other students.

Her situation was confounded by the fact that her relatives were of no help. She was one of 11 children in the massive Cornwall family, but the only one who was shipped off to school, far away from Cornwall, every year for 13 years.

“My family was what you would call dysfunctional,” she said, adding: “It would not have helped if I had said anything to them.”

In the early going the completely blind six-year-old was put on a train to Brantford, alone, with a note pinned to her coat explaining her situation.

“There was a conductor named Jimmy,” she said. “He would take of me.”

James Sayce, a lawyer with Koskie Minsky – the firm representing the complainants, is working to raise the profile of the suit and encourage others who were abused to come forward.

“W. Ross MacDonald employees failed to properly provide for the students placed under their care,” he said. “It is our hope that we can meaningfully engage with the 

government and their counsel and encourage a timely settlement. The victims deserve to get justice.”

Last week the complainants and the law firm went public to talk about the case and the abuse each victim allegedly suffered while studying at the provincially-run elementary and secondary school for pupils who are blind, deafblind or visually impaired.

The class action, certified in May 2012, concerns allegations of abuse against students enrolled at the school from Jan. 1, 1951 to today, and who were alive as of Feb. 22, 2009, according to a report in the Brantford Expositor.

The newspaper further reported lawyers working on behalf of the province argue there is no evidence of action for breach of fiduciary duty prior to 1963 and no cause of action for a negligence claim based on inadequate funding.

A common issues trial to be heard over 15 weeks has been scheduled to start on Jan. 3, 2017. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 17, 2015.

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