POLITICS

Deanna Smith, who helped lead fight in orphanage abuse lawsuits, dies at 49

03/23/2015 01:09 EDT | Updated 05/23/2015 05:59 EDT
TRURO, N.S. - A woman who helped lead the fight for public recognition of abuse alleged to have taken place for decades at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has died.

Deanna Smith, a representative plaintiff in two class-action lawsuits launched against the orphanage and the provincial government, died Saturday in Truro. She was 49.

In the 1970s, Smith was placed in the orphanage where she alleged she was abused.

Raymond Wagner, the lead lawyer who represents the plaintiffs, said Smith's courage in coming forward can't be overstated, adding that her efforts helped shed light on a dark chapter in the province's history.

"Deanna was willing to come forward to express and to detail her experiences at the home despite how revealing and traumatic they were," said Wagner. "She was prepared to step forward to be the voice of people who couldn't do that."

Wagner said Smith took her role seriously — so much so that she put her cancer treatments on hold in her home province of Alberta against medical advice to attend court proceedings in Nova Scotia that ended in a $34-million settlement last year.

Under that agreement, those who lived at the orphanage from 1921 until 1989 are eligible for payouts and are now going through a court-approved distribution of those funds.

Tony Smith, one of the former residents also at the forefront of the legal fight, said he first heard about Deanna Smith through media reports that detailed her experiences at the home.

"I personally thank her for her bravery in coming forward," said Smith. "In doing so she helped so many other people come forward as well."

Last fall, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil formally apologized for the abuse suffered by residents of the home and promised a public inquiry this year.

Smith, who is part of a group advising the provincial government on the terms of reference for the inquiry, said Monday that work is nearly complete and it should be ready to be presented to the cabinet within a couple of weeks.