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New Westminster City Council Votes to Demolish Woodlands Institution Centre Block Tower

BCACL Applauds New Westminster City Council for Respecting the Wishes of Former Residents of Woodlands by voting to demolish the last remaining structure from B.C.'s last major institution. BCACL issued the following press release in response to the news.
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New Westminster, B.C, July 12, 2011 – A two-year public dialogue that included a community consultation process has resulted in the City of New Westminster Council voting unanimously in favour of demolishing the Woodlands Centre Block Tower. We are relieved that City Council listened to and acknowledged the experiences and wishes of former residents who endured abuse at Woodlands by deciding to do the right thing.

"It's about time it came down," says Richard MacDonald, a former Woodlands resident and President of the BC Self Advocacy Foundation. "Seeing it there is a reminder of all the bad things that happened to us. We can move on now."

Since fire destroyed most of what was the Woodlands Centre Block in 2008, BCACL has been working with community partners to ensure that the voices of former residents were included in any decisions around the fate of the remaining Centre Block tower. Consultation meetings revealed an overwhelming desire to demolish the Centre Block building.

In June 2009, the City of New Westminster Council received a report from City staff recommending that the Woodlands Centre Block be re-purposed for commercial use. Following the tabling of that report, BCACL, along with former residents, the Community Living Society (a local organization that supports many former residents) and the Woodlands Parents Group, met with City staff and Mayor and Council, sharing information and documentation that explained why the social history of the Woodlands building cannot be separated from its architectural heritage. Former residents experienced some of the worst abuse in the Centre Block, which once housed the dentist’s office and hospital.

With a strong local lobby to preserve the building for its architectural heritage, the Centre Block had become a focal point for conflicting views of what institutions really were and what actually occurred in them. Some people who participated in discussions still maintain that Woodlands was progressive in its day, that people benefited from living there and it was a safe place. These attitudes prevail despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary from former residents, parents, historical records, law suits and publically commissioned reports, all describing horrific systemic abuse of all kinds, neglect and the denial of even the most basic human rights.

While demolition of the Centre Block is a win for people with developmental disabilities and their families, it is clear, given the unwillingness of many to acknowledge what really happened in institutions like Woodlands, that our work has only just begun. The risk of rewriting the history is real as was evidenced over the past few years and our work continues in ensuring that the truth about institutions is reflected in the places where we commemorate the lives of the people who lived and died in them.

Supporting the wishes of former residents, BCACL is will be asking for a demolition ceremony in which former residents can participate in the Centre Block Tower’s demolition.

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