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Friday, February 27, 1998 Published at 08:28 GMT

World: Americas

Canada's quins reject compensation

The three surviving members of a famous set of quintuplets -- exploited by the Canadian authorities when they were children -- have turned down an offer of financial compensation.

The Dionne quins, whose birth in 1934 was regarded as a remarkable event, were taken from their parents by the Ontario regional government and turned into a circus-style freak show.

They were paraded before paying spectators for more than a decade during the Depression; a trust fund set aside for the sisters disappeared without trace.

The government offered each of the three remaining sisters, who are now destitute, a pension of $16,000 a year.

Their lawyer said this was totally inadequate, the sisters maintaining that the sum failed to address years of exploitation by the Ontario provincial government, which took them away from their parents.

"We've made it clear from the beginning that we want justice, not charity," said Cecile Dionne, now 63.

The government has said it will not increase the offer, but, according to a BBC correspondent, it may find itself up against public opinion.

The story of the quintuplets, documented in books, plays and films, is widely regarded as a shameful episode in recent Canadian history.

Rare exhibits

Born in a small farm house near Callander in northern Ontario on May 28, 1934, the Dionne quintuplets drew throngs of curious journalists.

When they were just four months old, the girls were removed from their parents' care by the Ontario government, which said it feared American promoters would exploit them.

Instead, the infants were put into a nearby hospital where they were paraded, sometimes up to four times a day, before paying spectators for a decade.

Their faces were plastered on soap and milk cartons and they became the grist for a series of movies and radio specials.

At one time, the Dionnes were credited for one-fifth of the entire tourism industry in Ontario.

Once known as the "million dollar babies," the three remaining Dionne sisters currently live together in a Montreal house, surviving on a total $700 (US$493) pension each month.

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