Class action over Laval, Que., home for people with mental disabilities approved by Quebec court

Résidence Louise-Vachon has been the subject of multiple investigations in recent years. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Résidence Louise-Vachon has been the subject of multiple investigations in recent years. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

After years of reported incidents of violence and neglect, a class-action lawsuit against the health authority in Laval, Que., over the management of a residence for people with intellectual disabilities was approved by Quebec Superior Court Wednesday.

The lawsuit aims to get compensation of $100,000 for each resident who has lived at Résidence Louise-Vachon since 2014 for stress and harm caused as well as $50,000 per resident in punitive damages. It is also asking $30,000 be given to family members or caregivers of residents who were mistreated.

It alleges the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de Laval failed to provide adequate health and social services to its residents and violated their fundamental rights to life, safety, security, integrity and personal liberty.

The lawsuit argues that the faults committed by the CISSS led to a situation of systemic mistreatment and constant physical and verbal abuse, of which the residents have been victims.

Allegations of assault and stolen money

In 2019, three employees of the residence were arrested and charged with assault, including one charge of assault with a weapon, but were acquitted. Court documents alleged the employees mistreated as many as five residents, including a minor, who have autism or mental disabilities. One of the employees was alleged to have hit a resident with a walkie-talkie.

An internal investigation was then triggered at Louise-Vachon, and nine employees were fired. According to the head of Laval's health authority at the time, the abuse suffered by residents included being beaten, punished, intimidated and provoked.

But the conditions at the residence didn't improve.

In August 2023, another investigation found a pattern of mistreatment and abuse against residents by staff, including injuring residents during interventions, screaming at them and failing to properly communicate with their families.

The report also found a lack of follow-ups and monitoring, and issued a list of 154 recommendations, most of which were targeted at administrators, to improve the situation at the residence.

Only a few months later, Laval's health authority found that employees of Louise-Vachon stole $41,000 from residents' accounts between April 2022 and March 2023. In general, employees can access residents' accounts for day-to-day expenses under certain conditions.

The plaintiffs will have to prove the health authority was negligent, and it could take years to settle in court, but the representing lawyer, Patrick Martin-Ménard, told Radio-Canada he is happy the lawsuit will move forward.

"We're talking here not only about institutional neglect, but also physical, psychological and financial abuse," he said.

In a statement sent to Radio-Canada, the CISSS said it cannot comment on legal matters.

"The CISSS de Laval does not tolerate any form of mistreatment of its residents, patients or users. Any situation of mistreatment brought to the attention of CISSS de Laval is dealt with and analyzed. Whistleblowing is encouraged," said CISSS communications adviser Marie-Eve Despatie-Gagnon.