St. Anne's Indian Residential School victims get legal support from Truth and Conciliation Commission


Our Government Is Re-Victimizing These Residential School Survivors

Charlie Angus MP, Timmins-James Bay - Posted: 10/27/2013

If you want to know why the Conservative government has lost so much goodwill on the residential school apology, look no further than the treatment of the survivors of St. Anne's Residential School.

In the dark annals of the residential schools, St. Anne's stands out as a particularly brutal symbol of torture, shame and abuse. Unfortunately, the Federal government is re-victimizing the survivors by deliberately monkey-wrenching a process that was supposed to finally bring closure.

Just this past week the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) took the extraordinary step of intervening in a court case over the Federal government's attempt to hide thousands of pages of police and court evidence documenting abuse, rape and torture of children over decades at St. Anne's.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Independent Assessment Process (IAP) set up as part of the residential school settlement agreement was supposed to be non-confrontational. Survivors were to be given the chance to appear to tell their individual stories. The adjudicators would then compare these claims with the documented evidence of abuse at a particular institution.

Under the IAP, the Conservative government has a legal obligation to provide an official "narrative" outlining the documented evidence of abuse. In the case of St. Anne's this should have been easy. In the mid 1990s, Ontario Provincial Police undertook a massive investigation of abuse at St. Anne's. It was the largest investigation into child sexual abuse outside of the Mount Cashel inquiry.

By the time it got to court, many of the more notorious perpetrators were dead or could not be located. Nonetheless, the nearly 700 witness statements aided in numerous convictions. Among the more horrific stories was the fact that a homemade electric chair was used to torture children as young as five. According to the police evidence, this use of electric torture was considered a form of entertainment for staff.

The Federal government was well aware of the police and court evidence. But they chose to suppress this information by providing the survivors with a false narrative stating that no documentation of abuse existed.

It was a claim that was patently false. The question is why did they suppress this information? Was is an attempt to limit the extent of their liability by ensuring that corroborating evidence was not available to the adjudicators and the legal teams representing the survivors? Such a move would completely undermine the legitimacy of the process.

Early last July, I wrote to Indian Affairs Minister Valcourt pointing out that in presenting the hearings with a false narrative, his government had interfered with the legal rights of the survivors. Further, such a move had compromised the entire process.

In his response to me, Mr. Valcourt continued to play fast and loose with the facts. He attempted to tell me that police and court evidence was not admissible under the IAP.
Having read the legal terms of the process, it was clear that Mr. Valcourt was either misinformed or attempting to misrepresent something that was easily verifiable.

No doubt, realizing that he was boxed in, Mr. Valcourt agreed to refer the matter to the Ontario Superior Court for an opinion. This hearing on whether the government is obliged to share this evidence is expected to be heard on December 17. With the intervention of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Conservative case has been dealt a serious blow.

The TRC has written to the Ontario Court pointing out that the Federal government does indeed have a legal obligation to turn over both the court records (already in their possession) and obtain the thousands of pages of police testimony (in the hands of the Province).

Even more damning, the TRC has told the Ontario Court that they wrote to the Federal government on May 2, 2012 specifically asking them to turn over all records relating to police investigations and court proceedings relating to abuse of children at residential schools. At the time, the government simply ignored this letter.

For what possible benefit would the Conservative government undermine the work of the TRC? How is it possible that in 2013, the Federal government would prefer to cover up police evidence of sadistic acts that were carried out on mere children?

St. Anne's was a monstrous institution. The horrors perpetuated in that austere building on the Albany River still resonate across my region. I have sat with the families who continue to grieve the loved ones who died there. I have met families who long for closure for little brothers who were lost in the snow as they attempted to find their way home to escape the beatings. And I have met too many people whose families are still scarred from them having been used as sexual toys or punching bags when they were mere children.

The Prime Minister's apology had an incredible impact on these survivors. There were residential school survivors who literally wept for days because they were so overcome at hearing the word sorry. They took this Prime Minister at his word.

It is a sad commentary that their attempts to finally have justice have been so cynically undermined. The survivors of St. Anne's deserve justice. All Canadians have a stake in ensuring that justice is finally done for these innocent victims.



NDP MP Charlie Angus, right, speaks during a press conference in Ottawa on July 29, 2013, beside Edmund Metatawabin, former chief of the Fort Albany First Nation. (SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa withholding key residential-schools documents, Ontario survivors say

GLORIA GALLOWAY - OTTAWA - The Globe and Mail - Nov. 14 2013

Former inmates of an Indian residential school where children were subjected to horrific abuse, including torture in an electric chair, say the federal government is deliberately withholding documents that would prove their tales of torment and bolster their bid for compensation.

The former students say they were astounded to learn this month that the investigative files they have been asking Ottawa to get from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have been in federal hands since 2003.

Hundreds of First Nations people who were at the St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., have applied for compensation under the Independent Assessment Process, an out-of-court method of resolving claims of sexual and serious physical abuse at the schools.

They say the documents, created during a five-year OPP investigation that resulted in the conviction of five former employees of St. Anne's, would spare them from having to prove what they endured. The investigation uncovered evidence that included the fact that a home-made electric chair was used on children as young as six years old.

Under the terms of the IAP, Ottawa is required to search for and report any information about former employees of the schools who are named in survivors' claims. But in the case of St. Anne's, the government did not share the OPP documents or acknowledge they had copies during the first six years of the process.

Federal officials told the IAP panel there were "no known incidents found in documents regarding sexual abuse at Fort Albany IRS."

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a letter last July, after the school survivors had found out about the documents but believed the OPP had the only copies, that federal officials are not obligated to "seek out the investigative files of police forces."

The two sides will ask an Ontario Superior Court justice in December to determine how far the government must go to provide such files.

Lawyers for the survivors learned this month that the government got the documents 10 years ago, when it was being sued by 152 former students.

Justice Department lawyer Haniya Sheikh said in an affidavit of June, 2003, that it would be "unfair" to allow trial to proceed unless the government had access to the OPP file. A judge ordered that the government could "inspect and copy" it.

Edmund Metatawabin, a former chief of Fort Albany, said in a telephone interview that he was surprised to learn the government had the documents. He said it calls into question Prime Minister Stephen Harper 2008 apology to the survivors of residential schools.

"I remember the elders saying the words came out of his mouth but the eyes told a different story," Mr. Metatawabin said.

Stan Louttit, the Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, which encompasses the First Nations around James Bay, including Fort Albany, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that it is very important for the survivors to have proof of what they endured.

Erica Meekes, a spokeswoman for Mr. Valcourt, said the government takes its obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement seriously. "In order to bring clarity to the issue," Ms. Meekes said, "the minister has already sought direction from the Ontario Superior Court on whether the department can hand over these documents that would potentially breach privacy laws."

The government has argued that the documents contain private information that was given without intent or approval for its use or release.

Charlie Angus, the New Democrat MP who represents the riding that includes Fort Albany, said it is "appalling" that the government would stonewall the victims of abuse about police files that would corroborate their claims after arguing 10 years ago it would be "unfair" to proceed in a trial if it did not have access to them.

"They have really poisoned the process here, Mr. Angus said, "and I don't see how they can fix this at this point unless there is some kind of dramatic move."