Survivors from electric chair-equipped residential school facing another court fight with Ottawa


Survivors from electric chair-equipped residential school facing another court fight with Ottawa

13. FEB, 2015

Jorge Barrera

APTN National News
Indian residential school survivors who attended an institution that used an electric chair to torture students are returning to court in another effort to force the federal government to release uncensored documents from the investigations and criminal trials of former school staff.

Lawyers with the Ottawa firm Sack Golblatt Mitchell filed a "Return of Request for Directions" in December on behalf of students who attended St. Anne's Indian Residential School, which was in St. Albany, Ont. A hearing date has been set for June 9 in Toronto.

The filing is essentially asking for a clarification of a previous Jan. 14, 2014 ruling when Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell ordered Canada to disclose documents it held in its possession from an Ontario Provincial Police investigation into physical and sexual abuse at St. Anne's Residential School.

Ottawa initially denied it had the material, but eventually handed over 12,300 electronic documents related to the OPP probe, criminal court hearings and allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the school.

The documents released by Canada, however, have been heavily redacted, according to the court filing.

The documents are important for St. Anne's survivors involved in the Independent Assessment Process (AIP), which was set up to hear claims and give compensation for sexual and serious physical abuse to residential school survivors under the multi-billion dollar Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

St. Anne's survivors need the documents to prove their claims of abuse to IAP adjudicators. The redactions by Ottawa, however, are making it difficult for survivors to use the documents in their cases. The federal government acts as a party in the IAP hearings.

"It has been difficult for claimants and council to try and figure out which documents may or may not be relevant to the case," said Fiona Campbell, a lawyer with Sack Golblatt Mitchell.

The court filing alleges that the federal government is redacting documents that are "in the public domain." Ottawa is also "failing to provide an adequate school narrative for St. Anne's or adequate reports for persons named in the applications as having abused the claimant."

Campbell said in some instances there are thousands of documents describing abuse allegations against individual staff members, but the "person of interest reports" on those staff members contain no more than a page or two and sometimes no mention of the allegations.

The federal government is also refusing to release unredacted versions of three of five transcripts from open court criminal proceedings against former St. Anne's staff. Ottawa is claiming that the three transcripts are no longer in the public domain as a result of the "length of time that has elapsed," according to minutes from a Dec. 9 meeting of the IAP Oversight Committee.

"I don't even know what it means," said Campbell. "If you can get the documents and it is a transcript of what took place in open court, I would have thought it was something that was available to the public."

The IAP Oversight Committee has basically given up on dealing with the issue of the St. Anne's transcript and document issues, according to minutes of the December meeting.

"The technical subcommittee has reached the end of its discussions on the St. Anne's IRS issues," said the minutes.

NDP MP Charlie Angus said the IAP committee shares some of the responsibility for the scenario that has residential school survivors marching back to the courts.

"The responsibility here [falls on] the Independent Assessment Process, who continue to fail survivors of St. Anne's," said Angus. "What kind of legal process says it's okay for the defendants to suppress evidence and produce false evidence?"

Angus said the IAP Secretariat "is making no effort to make sure it's a fair process."

Justice Canada referred questions on the issue to Aboriginal Affairs which it said was the lead department on the file.

Aboriginal Affairs said in a statement that Canada is also seeking clarification through the request for direction filed by the St. Anne's survivors, but could provide no further comment because the matter is before the courts.

Survivors who attended the Bishop Horden Indian Residential School from Moose Factory, Ont., are also seeking to have the results of the request for direction apply to their cases that have not yet been concluded through the IAP process.

In addition to physical and sexual abuse, staff at St. Anne's used an electric chair to shock students as young as six. They also forced sick students to eat their own vomit.

A five-year OPP investigation in the 1990s led to the conviction of five former staff members from the school.