After suffering a public relations nightmare that made Ontario appear unresponsive to the plight of the three surviving Dionne quintuplets, the province’s government announced a settlement on Friday worth the equivalent of $2.8 million (United States), and offered to open an inquiry into the 9 years the sisters were wards of the state.
The frail 63-year-old women accepted the offer through their lawyer but remained in the Montreal area. They met for the first time with Ontario’s premier, Mike Harris, who formally apologized for the way the provincial government had acted.
The announcement was a dramatic reversal from last week, when provincial authorities insisted that the government had no legal responsibility for what happened in the 1930s and 1940s when the Dionnes, the world’s first surviving quintuplets, were taken from their family and displayed before millions of tourists.
Harris, saying that he was acting out of compassion, then made a take-it-or-leave-it offer of $4,200 a month for the three women. The sisters publicly rejected the offer. Public opinion turned sharply against the government.
“This is clearly a case where our government - and probably I in particular - allowed process and legal technicalities to get in the way of people and compassion,” said Charles Harnick, Ontario’s attorney general. “The premier made it very clear that this was not our finest hour.”
The surviving quintuplets - Cecile, Annette and Yvonne - said in interviews that more than any financial settlement, they wanted the Ontario government to hold an inquiry into the years when the province controlled every aspect of their lives.
Harnick said that a retired Ontario justice, Gregory Evans, would be available to conduct a factual review of what happened to a trust fund that had been set up when the Dionnes were girls, as well as to the millions of dollars in tourist revenue the province made from the quintuplets.
Through their lawyer, Clayton Ruby, the surviving sisters accepted the government’s newest offer on Friday, calling it “just and fair.”
“This will finally provide us with peace of mind,” the Dionnes said in the statement read by Ruby at a news conference, “the peace that comes from being satisfied that justice is finally being carried out.”
The sisters, and the family of their deceased sister Marie, will be allowed to divide the $2.8 million lump sum check any way they wish. And they will decide whether there will be an inquiry, and whether the results are made public.
However, there was a disagreement Friday between their lawyer and the Ontario authorities over what will happen when the inquiry is complete. Ruby said that if the inquiry concludes that the Dionnes should be further compensated, they will be, while Harnick said that the compensation ends with Friday’s settlement no matter what any inquiry finds.