Duplessis Orphan Can't Forget Sexual Abuse That Occurred Almost 60 Years Ago

By Peter Rakobowchuk
Brooks Bulletin
December 21, 2006

Montreal (CP) - Martin Lecuyer, now 69, still chokes back tears when he talks about the abuse he first suffered when he was an 11-year-old living in an orphanage north of Montreal.

"At that time, we thought it was normal to have sex between men," an emotional Lecuyer said Thursday as Quebec announced $26 million in compensation for 1,700 Duplessis Orphans who were abused in Roman Catholic Church-run institutions in the 1940s and '50s. Many other children received the same treatment, Lecuyer told reporters.

"I saw a lot of kids who were physically abused by a bunch of guys. . .I have this in my head since I was 11 years old. You can't forget that, it's impossible, you can't forget that."

Lecuyer is one of the last group of so-called Duplessis Orphans to be compensated by the Quebec government.

They will receive an average of $15,000, beginning next April, after they sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the Roman Catholic Church, religious communities or health professionals.

The orphans, many of them the children of unwed mothers, were nicknamed Duplessis Orphans after Maurice Duplessis, who was Quebec premier at the time.

Lecuyer vividly remembers his birthday party in 1951 when he went to complain about being sexually abused by a religious brother at his orphanage.

He said he was first given a small bag of peppermints, but when he tried to explain to a superior what happened, Lecuyer was given the strap.

"That was my gift," he said in an interview.

Lecuyer said he was sexually abused by two religious brothers "about two or three times a week" over a five-year period.

He said he and other orphans were also forced to work on farms under slave-like conditions and never received any money.

"The farmers would pay the (religious) community for the work we did," Lecuyer said.

"This was slavery, that's the word for it."

Social Solidarity Minister Michelle Courchesne said Quebecers cannot remain indifferent about what she called "this sad episode in the history of Quebec."

"We very strongly hope today that all of them can, with dignity and respect, turn this painful page of their lives and our history," she said.

Bruno Roy, chairman of the committee that represents the orphans, said the file is now closed.

"This is an excellent thing because it puts an end to what we have been demanding for almost 15 years," he said.

But Roy said he and other orphans remain upset because the church still refuses to apologize for what happened.

"It passed on its responsibility to the government. . .and so the population finds itself paying for the errors of the church, which is absurd," Roy said.

The compensation package was developed by a government-appointed committee which heard what it called "shocking testimony" from orphans.

The committee's mandate was to provide recommendations for financial aid but not to assign blame.

A group of about 1,100 other orphans settled with the government in 2001 for about $25 million for wrongfully placing them in mental institutions.

That offer, based on a flat $10,000 to each individual plus $1,000 for each year they were wrongfully confined, worked out to about $25,000 per orphan.

Many of the orphans say they suffered beatings, sexual abuse, electroshock and even lobotomies.


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