CW: This story mentions rape and various forms of abuse.
UPDATE 11/10/2022: The United Church of Canada issued a further statement on Nov. 10 reiterating its recognition of the harms caused by the maternity homes and its commitment to listening.
An Ontario woman, who says in a statement of claim that she became pregnant after she was raped at age 17, is suing The United Church of Canada over its operation of several maternity homes for unwed mothers.
The plaintiff, who Broadview won’t name since she is a victim of abuse, says she involuntarily resided at the United Church-operated Church Home for Girls in Winnipeg in 1965 and was forced to give up her newborn baby.
She and other residents suffered “physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse arising from the systemic practices, programs and structures meted out, taught, and provided to them by the United Church of Canada and its agents in the maternity homes,” the statement of claim reads.
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The plaintiff is also seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, which was filed in Manitoba on Oct. 13, hoping to bring the action on behalf of anyone who resided at one of the denomination’s maternity homes and claims that they were physically, sexually or psychologically abused in the institutions.
The United Church ran five dedicated homes from the end of World War II until the 1980s and operated additional homes which may have served single mothers as part of their mandate.
The plaintiff was allegedly forced to perform unpaid labour during her stay, deprived of adequate medical care and interrogated at the church-run institution about the sexual activity that had led to her pregnancy. She also alleges that staff physically and mentally assaulted her.
More past coverage of United Church maternity homes:
- Bernadette Dumas’s parents needed a place to hide her. Decades later, she’s still haunted by what she lost
- United Church of Canada apologizes for role in forced adoptions
- New film sheds light on forced adoptions in church-run homes
“The residents entered the United Church maternity institutions expecting humane treatment, and requiring prenatal care, security, and emotional and psychological support. Instead, the residents were dehumanized, shamed, humiliated and mistreated,” the lawsuit reads.
“Residents were subjected to a scheme of religious coercion imposed by United Church authorities and mandate.”
Rev. Michael Blair, United Church general secretary, said in a statement that the denomination is “aware of the pain that our historic role in maternity homes has caused. The church, in deep regret, issued an apology in November 2020. We are attentive, and continue to listen.” In its 2020 apology, the organization said that its “role in pressured, coerced, or forced adoptions created a legacy of pain and suffering.”
Emma Prestwich is Broadview’s digital editor.
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