WARNING: Story may contain graphic details
A local woman is taking the lead in a $100 million class-action lawsuit that claims the province has systematically failed to protect the legal rights and claims of kids in care.
Holly Papassay became a Crown Ward when she was five. Over the next seven years she was moved through foster homes between Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay, where she suffered abuse and attempted sexual assaults.
In one home she was forced to watch as an older boy in care raped a neighbour.
Other foster parents locked her in a room with the windows nailed shut, starving and not able to go to the bathroom for hours at a time.
When she tried to tell Children's Aid about it, she said they called her a “problem child.”
"Nobody listened or did anything. I was labeled as a liar a troublemaker," she said.
As early as 1971, children who suffered abuse while in the Crown's care have been entitled to seek compensation and damages through the provincial Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. But no one ever told her that. As a child or an adult, she said.
"Even if I would have had some kind of counseling," Papassay said.
Toni Grann feels the same. Bouncing through foster care in Southern Ontario, before being placed with a family that she's still with to this day and credits for saving her life, Grann was raped in a home that led to a conviction.
Still, she was never offered any help. From counseling to post-secondary education, knowing there were ways to get that help would've gone a long way.
"It could have changed the course of my life," she said.
Papassay is now the lead in a class-action suit against the province that alleges Ontario breached its duty and failed to consider or take steps to protect and pursue the rights of Crown Wards.
Since 1966 when a child is considered a ward, the province assumes responsibility in the same way that a parent would. Watkins Law Professional Corporation and Toronto's Koskie Minsky are partnering to take the case on. Lawyer Sandy Zaitzeff said this suit, filed in Thunder Bay, will show that the problem is province-wide.
"Their stories are horrific, their stories are grotesque," he said. "What they went through no one should go through."
Since filing last week, Zaitzeff said he's heard from 30 people already who were wards and had similar experiences. He estimates there might be thousands more out there.
Papassay and Grann said the main reason the suit is out there is so that other children won't have to suffer the same way.
"When a child is telling you something's happening, listen," Papassay said.
"We hope that it will make the system change. That's all you can do," Grann said.
Zaitzeff estimates the suit will take around three years to be certified.