The Duplessis Orphans: 20,000 Intentional Misdiagnoses

“They never called by the names, they always called ‘Hey bastard – bastard, come here.’ We grew up like that.” —Louis-Joseph Hébert, victim

In A Nutshell

From 1940 to 1960, the Canadian government in Quebec, in conjunction with the Catholic Church, falsely diagnosed thousands of children with mental illnesses, so they could be placed in institutions run by the Church. Many of the orphans were forcibly taken from their mothers by Catholics because their parents were unmarried. In addition, many of them were abused, and some may have been medically experimented on.

The Whole Bushel

Starting in the 1940s and continuing through the 1950s, the Canadian government of the province of Quebec conspired with the Catholic Church to send thousands of orphaned children into Church-run institutions by falsely diagnosing them with mental illnesses. They are known as the Duplessis Orphans, named after Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, who was in power during their imprisonment. Some of the children were abandoned by their parents but many were forcibly taken by the Church because they were “children of sin,” babies born out of wedlock.

The main reason for this scheme is simple and universally understood: money. Additional funding from the Canadian federal government was given to institutions which cared for mentally ill children and Duplessis and the Church wanted as many dollars as they could get. So almost all of the orphans were said to have mental illnesses and were shipped to insane asylums. When those filled up, existing orphanages were converted, so as to make more beds available for the “mentally ill.”

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In addition, many of the children underwent constant physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of the nuns and priests who ran the institutions. Some of the orphans were also said to be the victims of medical experimentation, including electroshock therapy and lobotomies. (One survivor, Paul St. Aubain, stated: “They were experimenting with me. I was a prisoner.”) Many of those who were experimented on may have died, with one orphan saying he transported at least 60 corpses: “Some of these people died on the operating table. Some had been sick and some had committed suicide.”

In 2002, a group of around 1,100 surviving orphans settled with the Quebec government, receiving $25 million in compensation, with the requirement they not attempt to sue the Catholic Church. However, to this day, no apology has been issued from either the Quebec government or the Catholic Church for the 20,000 lives they destroyed.

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