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sister reflects on her brother's institutionalized life

5 7 120
15.03.2019

Ten years ago this month, Ontario put an end to a long, failed exercise in public policy on people with intellectual disabilities. On March 31, 2009, the lights went out for good at the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia and the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls, the oldest and the largest residential institutions in the province.

The shutdowns were a long time coming.

After a government-commissioned 1971 report castigated Ontario for “a century of failure and inhumanity” in the way it set up and ran these institutions, Ontario adopted a policy calling for community care.

That was in 1973. By the time the last facilities closed, more than 35 years had passed. Walter Williston, the author of that groundbreaking report, was dead.

So was Robert Welch, the provincial cabinet minister who promised that “wherever feasible, services should be provided in a community setting as an alternative to institutionalization.”

And so was my brother, Bill.

Bill was born in 1956 with Down syndrome. When he was 2½, my parents took him to what was then known as the Ontario Hospital School at Smiths Falls. We visited him every month as a family, but he never came home again.

My parents, and thousands of others like them, bought into the promise that the institution would be Bill’s best chance for progress and happiness, a place where he could live a safe and protected life with people they euphemistically called “his own kind”.

In the 1950s,........

© Ottawa Citizen