As with Clarina and Simonne, relatives who placed children in Quebec orphanages customarily had been promised they would receive a "good education" if turned over to the institutions.
Instead, for decades, psychiatrists falsely declared thousands of them to be mentally ill or retarded. The children were moved to psychiatric asylums or, as at Mont Providence, facilities were converted to mental institutions. The psychiatric labels enabled institutions to obtain "nearly twice the amount per child, and sometimes more, depending on how children were classified and where they were placed."2
Although their poor performance on I.Q. tests stemmed from a lack of schooling, normal children were stigmatized with such psychiatric tags as "idiot" and "imbecile" — false labels that destroyed their lives and haunt survivors to this day.
Evidence unearthed by Freedom in its ongoing investigation, which began in 1999, points to the Duplessis Orphans as the largest instance of institutionalized child abuse in North America.
The death or disappearance of many children and young adults — Vienneau charged that 50,000 innocents were thus victimized — drives human rights advocates to demand a thorough investigation, particularly of psychiatrists and others who benefited from the mass tragedy.
False Label Brings 25 Years' Incarceration
To date, no criminal court or human rights body has examined the alleged atrocities. Because of the lack of a probe, no psychiatrist engaged in or connected to alleged crimes against the Orphans — including experiments with brain-damaging drugs, electric shocks and lobotomies — has been charged, despite evidence of duplicity, misconduct and harm.
On June 22, 1967, for example, psychiatrist Louis Roy examined Duplessis Orphan Joseph Sylvestre as an outpatient at St. Michel Archange, a psychiatric institution in Quebec City since renamed Robert Giffard Hospital. After the examination, Roy failed to change Sylvestre's earlier, false childhood diagnosis.
Years later, in 1991, Sylvestre approached Roy for assistance in finding a job and subsequently received a letter from Roy in which the psychiatrist admitted that Sylvestre had never been mentally ill.
"You were never mentally ill and you are fit," Roy reportedly said.
The scandal was reported by the Journal de Montreal in 1992. When contacted at his office by the Journal, Roy confirmed the facts concerning Sylvestre — "my good friend JS," as Roy called him.3
As early as 1962, a Quebec government body known as the Bedard Commission acknowledged that the Orphans had never been mentally ill or retarded and that they had been fraudulently labeled.
Despite this, Roy was never charged with wrongful diagnosis or any other crime, even after admitting in writing that Sylvestre had wrongfully spent 25 years confined to the psychiatric institution where Roy was the director.
Roy, now retired, admitted to Freedom that he had misdiagnosed Sylvestre, offering as excuses that Sylvestre had already been a patient when he took over his case and that things were "different" back then.
Roy said that no disciplinary action had been taken against him because Sylvestre had "only" received psychiatric drugs, not a lobotomy or electroshock. He refused to comment on whether there should be a public inquiry into the case of the Duplessis Orphans, but admitted he saw many abuses when working at St. Michel Archange. Due to his advanced years, he said, he wants to forget the past.
"He may want to forget it, but Roy and other psychiatrists created evil and destruction, and victims live the nightmare to this day," said Denis Coté, a spokesperson for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights* in Quebec. "Psychiatry sentenced these Orphans to degradation, misery and, in many cases, death. After the lid started to come off, psychiatrists engaged in damage control to protect their own incomes and reputations. They played no part in helping the survivors."