It's a story that the Georgia Straight has revisited over the years: the refusal of the B.C. Liberal government to compensate some survivors of the infamous Woodlands School, even though a 2002 review by the ombudsman described decades of systemic abuse.
Today, NDP premier John Horgan finally closed the book on this issue by announcing that those who lived at the provincial facility before August 1, 1974, will finally be compensated.
Each will receive $10,000. In addition, those who lived there after 1974 will also receive up to $10,000, with this amount taking into account previous settlement awards.
“This is a historic occasion that closes this dark chapter in B.C. history,” Woodlands survivor Bill McArthur said in a government news release. “Today acknowledges and vindicates Woodlands survivors, who I hope can live the rest of their lives with a sense of self-respect and dignity.”
The school was known for much of its 118-year history as the "Provincial Asylum for the Insane" and the "Woodlands Public Hospital for the Insane". It became Woodlands in 1950 and the name was changed again in 1974 to Woodlands School.
The facility housed children and adults with developmental disabilities and some with developmental disabilities and mental illness, as well as runaways and wards of the state.
According to the Inclusion B.C. website, there were approximately 1,400 people living there by the late 1950s. By the early 1980s as a result of pressure from the families, the province announced that the school would be closed, but it still took another 15 years for that to happen.
McArthur left Woodlands before the 1974 cut-off date, which left him ineligible for damages as a result of a 2005 B.C. Court of Appeal ruling known as the Arishenkoff decision.
That was because the government wasn't liable under the Crown Proceedings Act, which took effect on August 1, 1974.
It's an issue that has interested Health Minister Adrian Dix for many years.
In 2012, he wrote an opinion piece on Straight.com calling on then premier Christy Clark to deliver justice to McArthur and other survivors.
“I want to recognize the Woodlands survivors, many who I met on this issue more than a decade ago,“ Dix said today in the government news release. “They have persisted against prejudice and mistreatment from the province for decades, even after the school shut its doors and a settlement agreement was reached with some former residents. Today’s announcement brings some small measure of justice for them, and I am very proud of the premier and many advocates for making it happen.”
He said that between $9 million and $15 million will be distributed to the survivors as a result of today's announcement.
The executive director of Disability B.C., Jane Dyson, thanked Horgan, Dix, and the government "for showing the leadership and compassion Woodlands survivors have waited so long to see".
Money is expected to be paid out by March 31, 2019.