First Nations Group Wants Wider Search for Files Related to Residential School Abuse

By Donovan Vincent
Toronto Star
May 19, 2015

After a protracted legal fight thousands of documents detailing abuse at St. Anne’s, a residential school in northern Ontario, were handed over by Ottawa last June following a judge’s order.

The First Nations umbrella group wants Canada to search all federal departments and agencies for the historical records, while Ottawa lawyer Fay Brunning, who is representing nine former attendees of one particular school in Ontario, wants the search to “at least’’ involve the RCMP, Health Canada and Department of Justice.

“The RCMP had jurisdiction over the vast majority of Indian residential schools in Canada when they were operating,’’ Brunning said in an interview.

The First Nations group, Brunning and lawyers representing the justice department and other interests are scheduled to argue the matter in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto Wednesday, before Justice Paul Perell.

It’s not the first battle over historical records involving hearings related to the Truth and Reconciliation process.

After a protracted legal fight, a disk with approximately 12,300 documents, including OPP records from the 1990s detailing abuse at St. Anne’s a residential school in northern Ontario, was handed over by Ottawa last June, following a judge’s order the previous January.

Five former employees at the school were convicted when the OPP investigated at the time.

But prior to the judge’s order federal officials had initially stated there were no known incidents of sexual abuse at St. Anne’s.

The Indian residential schools settlement agreement created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where aboriginal survivors of sexual and physical abuse in the now-defunct schools have told their personal stories.

The agreement also established an Independent Assessment Process, where survivors who suffered serious abuse have brought forward claims seeking compensation.

In her factum, Brunning says one of her clients, who says she was sexually abused in the 1960s while attending Bishop Horden residential school at Moose Factory on James Bay, also claims to have witnessed a severe beating of a student by a supervisor at the institution.

The alleged incident happened in the girls’ dorm at the school and left the victim with 32 stitches, the witness claims. The claimant recalls supervisors were fired and there were arrests.

Other Bishop Horden claimants represented by Brunning recall similar events.

But in its factum Ottawa says it has searched its records and not found anything to confirm these alleged incidents.

“There is no modicum of evidence before this honourable court that would suggest that the alleged documents exist,’’ the factum says.

Brunning says the settlement agreement also called for Ottawa to scour historical records for documents pertaining to the schools including “at the very least” documents about abuse.

But Brunning says the federal government didn’t meet its legal obligations to do so. Only records kept by Libraries and Archives Canada and Indian Affairs were searched as part of the compensation process, she adds.


Sept. 19, 2007 — The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement comes into force. Aside from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the agreement provides two forms of compensation for claimants, including the independent assessment process for more serious abuse cases.

June 1, 2008 — The launch of the commission’s hearings into victims’ stories and research.

June 11, 2008 — Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizes in the House of Commons for the abuses in the past abuses in residential schools, one of the conditions of the settlement agreement.

January 14, 2014 — Justice Paul Perell orders that OPP documents relating to sexual and physical abuse at St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany, Ont., be handed over by the federal government.

June 20, 2014 — Lawyers for claimants are sent a disk with about 12,300 documents pertaining to St. Anne’s and the OPP investigation of abuse there.








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