If the New Democratic Party were elected to office in May's provincial election it would extend compensation to all Woodlands survivors within the first week of its term.
NDP leader Adrian Dix made the announcement on Monday morning at the Woodlands site in New Westminster, where he was joined by MLA Dawn Black, Woodlands survivors and their families and friends, and advocates.
"If elected, an NDP government will lift the Aug. 1, 1974 cutoff date that excludes hundreds of Woodlands survivors from being able to apply for damages. Ending this discriminatory action is going to be one of the first acts my cabinet will complete within its first seven days of office," Dix said. "Providing some of the most marginalized British Columbians a sense of closure and justice for the systemic abuse they suffered is a priority not just for me, but for the people of our province. Despite repeated opportunities to do the right thing, the moral thing, the Liberal cabinet has systematically resisted treating Woodlands survivors with fairness and compassion."
Reports by the Ombudsperson and the Public Guardian and Trustee have confirmed there was systemic sexual, psychological and physical at Woodlands.
"First they tried to deny them the right to apply for compensation as a class by arguing that there was not an institutional problem at Woodlands, just a 'few bad apples'," Dix said in a press release. "And then instead of entering a settlement agreement when the former students won the right to compensation, they pursued a separate challenge to reduce the class by creating a cut-off date."
The provincial agreed to a compensation package for Woodlands survivors, but the courts excluded residents who had suffered abuse before Aug. 1, 1974 when the Crown Proceedings Act took effect. The provincial government agreed to settle with Woodlands survivors for between $3,000 and $150,000, depending on the level of abuse each person suffered. Former residents and advocates have called for compensation for all victims of abuse at Woodlands School.
In October 2011, former residents and advocates cheered as the Centre Block was demolished at the former Woodlands site. While they were delighted to see the building demolished, the issue of compensation for all former residents was a reoccurring theme among those attending the event.
"I am very happy that the building is coming down," said former resident Bill McArthur. "I am sad at the same time that the Woodlands survivors are still being abused by this government even as we are talking. They are still not compensating the abuses that we suffered."
McArthur said the demolition of the tower is a symbolic gestured that's appreciated by former residents, but only way they'll have closure is by being compensated in a fair and timely manner.
Last fall, the Supreme Court of British Columbia extended the claim deadline in the Woodlands class action settlement for an additional year, giving former residents until Sept. 19, 2013 to file claims. The judge concluded that the claims process has been much more complicated and time consuming than originally anticipated.
Survivors of the New Westminster facility, which operated as Woodlands School from 1950 to 1996, filed a class-action lawsuit in 2002. The provincial government later agreed to a compensation package for Woodlands survivors, but the courts excluded residents who had suffered abuse before Aug. 1, 1974 when the Crown Proceedings Act took effect.
David Klein, whose law firm of Klein Lyons has been retained by more than 800 members of the class action, stated in October 2012 that the province could make compensation available to all Woodlands residents if it wanted to. He believes there are fewer than 500 pre-1974 survivors who are still alive, among them the "oldest, most fragile" Woodlands survivors.