Clarina Duguay (above) holds a photograph of herself
and other children who suffered horrific abuses at the St. Julien psychiatric
institution after being falsely labeled "mentally retarded." Psychiatrist
Joseph Pierre Lamontagne (right) signed the papers committing Duguay. Her husband,
Rod Vienneau, represents survivors who seek to expose and bring to account psychiatrists
and others responsible for abuses against the Duplessis Orphans.
Robbed of their childhoods and their educations, Clarina and Simonne are two among perhaps 3,000 surviving "Duplessis Orphans."
Naming themselves after former Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis**, many of these individuals, like Clarina and Simonne, were in fact not orphans at all, but had been born to poor families that had difficulty caring for them, or to unwed mothers. Although no official tallies were kept, over a span of several decades, it has been estimated they numbered in the tens of thousands and perhaps as many as 100,000.
As bad as things were, Clarina and Simonne consider themselves luckier than most of the Orphans — Simonne managed to escape after several years and, when her family learned of the sisters' ordeal, they freed Clarina on May 8, 1953.
Like many of those who suffered, Clarina chose not to talk about her experiences, preferring to put the past behind her. She went to work as a seamstress in Montreal, abandoning her plans of working for an airline and seeing the world, but grateful to once again enjoy freedom.
In 1965, she met Rod Vienneau, a singer and songwriter who also worked as a construction worker and miner. They married in May the next year. For decades, she kept her terrors at St. Julien a secret from her children and her husband.
Only after the truth about the Duplessis Orphans began to emerge in the 1990s did Clarina share her story with her husband and, ultimately, with Freedom.
Child Victims: Their World Turned Upside Down
Today, Rod Vienneau, as founder of the Commission for Victims of Crimes Against Humanity, represents survivors who seek to expose and bring to account the psychiatrists and government officials responsible for alleged crimes and abuses against the Orphans.
Robbed of their childhoods and their educations, Clarina and her sister are two among perhaps 3,000 surviving "Duplessis Orphans."
Since 1992, when he obtained Clarina's medical files under Canada's Access to Information Act, he has investigated abuses against the Orphans, also leading protest marches, letter-writing campaigns and other activities to draw attention to injustices at many similar facilities — such as Mont Providence in Montreal, converted from an orphanage and school to a psychiatric hospital in one day.
At that institution, since renamed Riviere des Prairies Psychiatric Hospital, Vienneau said, "Overnight, they emptied the classrooms, got rid of the books, and put bars on the windows. They turned the rooms into cells."
The morning the children's nightmare began at Mont Providence, the nuns, instead of wearing their familiar black-and-white habits, dressed in white — a stark sign of conversion to a psychiatric hospital.
"The children had a life before," said Vienneau. "There was schooling. They could play. All of that changed. It was hard labor. No more learning."
At psychiatric facilities throughout Quebec, he said, "They used the Orphans for the dirty work."
Normal boys and girls in the child welfare system were degraded and dehumanized, he said, coerced via pain and punishment into becoming a slave-labor force in the province's mental institutions. Instead of learning to read and write, they swabbed floors and hallways, cleaned the clothes of adult inmates, washed adults incapacitated by drugs, shocks and lobotomies, and served in other menial, often backbreaking capacities — all for the profit of their psychiatric overlords.