Federal government told by the courts to release documents about abuses at residential school

From CBC.ca

Residential school documents must be released, judge rules

St. Anne's in Fort Albany, Ont., was the site of some of the worst cases of abuse in the country

Posted: Jan 14, 2014

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Boys in a classroom c. 1945

St. Anne's Indian Residential School operated in Fort Albany, Ont., from 1904 to 1976. (Edmund Metatawabin collection/Algoma University)

About 60 residential school survivors have been successful in their bid to have files from the Ontario Provincial Police released in order to support their claims for compensation for abuse.

In a written decision released today, Ontario Superior Court Judge Paul Perell ruled the documents from a five-year investigation at St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany be turned over. The criminal investigation was conducted in the 1990s.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair applauded the decision.

"The release of these records is critical not only to survivors who were badly abused, but to Canadians as a whole," he said in a written statement.

"Reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in Canada depends on a shared and complete understanding of the residential school experience."

The federal government cited privacy concerns when arguing against disclosing the files, and argued evidence from investigations and trials pertaining to certain victims should not be used for claimants not involved in those cases.

But Perell said in his decision that the government misinterpreted its disclosure obligations and should turn over the documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"If truth and reconciliation is to be achieved ... [and to be] a genuine expression of Canada's request for forgiveness for failing our aboriginal peoples so profoundly, the justness of the system for the compensation for the victims must be protected," he said.

"The substantive and procedural access to justice of the [Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement], like any class action, must also be protected and vouched safe. The court has the jurisdiction to ensure that the IRSSA provides both procedural and substantive access to justice."

The office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a written statement the government was looking for direction from the court.

"This litigation came about because the government of Canada was in possession of documents that were the property of the OPP. Our government sought direction from the court on whether these documents could be turned over in order to bring clarity to these issues, and in consideration of privacy concerns," the statement said.

"We will continue to ensure that we fulfil our obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and will be reviewing the court decision to determine next steps."

Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has been advocating for the survivors, said the decision is a complete victory.

Hundreds of aboriginal children from remote James Bay communities were sent to St. Anne's from 1904 to 1976.

St. Anne's was the site of some of the worst cases of abuse in the country, including physical and sexual abuse. Survivors tell stories of children being forced to eat their own vomit and of the nuns and brothers shocking children as young as six in a homemade electric chair.