By Clare Dyer
19 June 2002 / The Guardian
Barnardo's, the UK's biggest children's charity, is accused in a £400m lawsuit of shipping destitute children before the second world war to work as farm labourers in Canada.
A class action launched at Ontario's superior court alleges the charity sent youngsters to Canada even though some still had parents living in Britain. Many were sent without the consent, or even the knowledge, of their parents.
The older ones went as indentured labourers to Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Many of those who were "migrated", between 1870 and 1939, were subsequently abused.
The action was launched on behalf of 86-year-old Harold Vennell, of Windsor, Ontario, who was shipped to Canada at the age of 14. He had been a Barnardo's boy since 1923, when he became ill with rickets and his single mother could not look after him.
Mr Vennell claims he ended up on an Ontario farm working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, was given meagre food and was abused.
His lawyers have set up a website inviting other Barnardo's children with similar allegations to join the action.
Harvey Strosberg QC, for Mr Vennell, said Barnardo's shipped 30,000 children to Canada. "While Barnardo's intentions may have seemed laudable to some, it is now indisputable that many of the children were neglected, abused or otherwise mistreated."
Mr Strosberg estimated there were 3,000-5,000 of the migrant children still alive who might want to join the action.
A message from Barnardo's posted on the website of the British high commission in Ottawa said it was trying to trace 2,500 people sent to Canada as child migrants "to offer information and support to help them come to terms with what happened to them".