Last week's case conference at Osgoode Hall in Toronto was an eye-opener again to just how insidious the Canadian government continues to be when it comes to being 'just' toward residential school Survivors.
What came to light is that the Canadian government has more, more, more documents that were not brought into the Independent Assessment Process but could have been. These are testimonials from Survivors who were brave enough to write down their stories in the early to mid-1990s....over 700 testimonials that would - without question - corroborate the 'stories' of Survivors who are engaged in compensatory hearings at the Independent Assessment Process. These testimonies from the Survivors are said to be damning with respect to treatment of the children at this school that was a house a horrors for so many. Had these documents been willingly submitted in 2007 by a government committed - TRULY committed - to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, then St. Anne's Survivors' claims would likely not have been denied and Survivors would have been under-compensated for the abuses they endured over a number of years.
In short, even under the 'leadership' of prime minister Justin Trudeau, these behaviours by the Department of 'Justice' equate to obstruction of justice. There can be no reconciliation with a government that continues to hide what went on at the residential schools. If Prime Minister Trudeau is to hold true to his word about actively reconciling the Canadian government with indigenous issues in Canada, then he had better address this obstruction of justice sooner rather than later. The Survivors deserve this deep level of respect.
ALL DOCUMENTS - including ALL medical records - should have been brought into the IAP. These too, are buried it seems. How do we hold the Canadian government to account? Enough is enough!
The good people from the James Bay coastline travelled a long way to reach the Court and to attend this hearing about their lives and their families and communities. St. Anne's had pedophiles that preyed on the children, and abusers who would beat ill children to force them to eat their own vomit, and the abusers built a home made electric chair to strap in and electrocute children, sometimes as punishment and sometimes to "entertain" the adults who would laugh at the suffering of the children. All aboriginal children were taken from their parents and forced to attend IRS' under federal laws. This Indian Residential School was operated by the federal government and the Catholic church in Fort Albany from 1903 until 1976. In 1992, Edmund Metatawabin and other leaders in the region organized the Keykaywin Conference to address the suffering of the people in the region and to encourage people to end their silence about the terrible sexual and physical abuse they suffered as children at St. Anne's. They were looking for cultural and health support, as well as recognition by federal and church officials that Parents and grandparents were blocked from entering the school and would be thrown in jail and denied treaty rights if their children did not attend. 30 people testified to a closed panel at the Keykaywin Conference about the abuse. Chief Metatawabin was mandated by the elders to involve the police about these crimes that had been committed against children. From 1992 until 1997, Metatawabin and other leaders asked the survivors to trust the justice system and tell their stories. The OPP separately and confidentially gathered the stories and obtained signed statements from over 700 former students from St. Anne's about the widespread sexual and physical abuse that happened to them as children. From 1997 until 1999, there were charges laid and criminal proceedings against 8 supervisors still alive/found by the OPP. From 2000 to 2004, the federal lawyers and church officials sat across the table from Edmund Metatawabin and 100+ survivors in a "pilot ADR" project that resulted in nothing. From 2000 to 2005, about 160 former students used the regular civil justice system out of the Cochrane courthouse to sue for the sexual and physical abuse. In 2003, the federal lawyers brought a motion to the Court to obtain access to the entire OPP investigation file, which the Court granted on August 1, 2003. So, by 2003, the federal lawyers had the stories of about 1000 former students about the details of abuse they suffered as children and the knowledge/lack of reasonable steps by church and federal officials to stop the abuse. The story of one survivor about the horrific abuse of the child may sound "unbelievable" on its own, but when heard in the context of 1000 former students who gave similar fact evidence, the truth is obvious. In May 2006, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement was signed for all survivors across Canada. That Agreement included the apology from then Prime Minister Harper, Common Experience Payment, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, mental health support and the IAP process. The IAP process is private and confidential, with every person who was sexually or physically abused (defined types of serious physical abuse only) filing an application for compensation. The federal government is a defendant in each IAP hearing. Adjudicators are supposed to have full advance disclosure of everything the federal and church officials know about abuse at the school before each survivor comes in to testify under oath.
In this IAP private and confidential legal system, the survivor, if believed, is paid for the one worst incident of abuse that happened to him/her as an residential school student, and for the harms that flowed from the abuse. (The long list of possible harms flowing from child abuse is agreed upon in the settlement agreement). What was discovered in 2013, was that the federal officials had filed none of the evidence of the 1000 former students, that was already in the possession of federal officials. The evidence was not filed for the IAP adjudicators to review, and it was also not sent to the Truth and Reconcilation Commission (TRC). In 2014, the Court ordered the federal government to produce all this evidence to the IAP and the TRC, but by that time, there had been hundreds of cases already heard without proper disclosure by federal officials. In some IAP cases, survivors were believed by the adjudicators and were paid the appropriate compensation, even though all the similar fact evidence had not been disclosed. But some claims were denied, because one former student testifying by himself/herself about the horrific abuse going on at the school, are not believed. One story out of context seems unbelievable, but in the context of the evidence given by 1000 former students, it clearly is true. Worse yet, despite Court orders in 2014 and 2015, federal officials are still not filing all the evidence, and some claims have been denied. Because it is a private and confidential court system, there is no way for St. Anne's survivors association or leaders to find out who has suffered again, with miscarriages of justice due to this non-disclosure. People are suffering on their own and some are trying to take their own lives, so despondent at not being believed. By 2016, the IAP is shutting down and Edmund Metatawabin and leaders in the region want a neutral reviewer to look at all the evidence of 1000 former students collected by the operations of the Ontario justice system from 1992 until 2005, and determine which survivors deserve a re-hearing, given all this similar fact evidence. They want the federal lawyers to stop arguing that all this similar fact evidence is inadmissible and cannot be relied upon by adjudicators, despite corroborating the horrific abuse stories being considered. Metatawabin and St. Anne's survivors also want funding for cultural and mental health support to be given, because had all this evidence about the widespread abuse been disclosed by federal officials since 2006 (when the settlement agreement was signed), the high need for cultural and health support for survivors and their families, in the remote areas along James Bay, would have been known. Metatawabin, leaders and health support workers in the region have developed and run their own programs that are working, but funding is needed to keep the programs going and expanding. Leaders and survivors from the region have given evidence that training/employment of local people who live and work in the communities themselves is the way to heal and change life for the current children. Flying out a survivor to a city to get therapy, only to be returned to the same previous environment, is an intermediate, not a long term solution. Aboriginal self-determined cultural and health recovery is needed following such widespread sexual and physical abuse of children at St. Anne's. What will our justice system do, to address breach of the Settlement Agreement by federal officials, violating the rights of the very same people who were abused as children? We do not know yet. The Court in 206/2007 promised to enforce the settlement agreement for aboriginal Canadians, including against the federal government, the main defendant. This Judge, Mr. Justice Perell, found a miscarriage of justice for one IAP claimant in July 2016, but the federal lawyers appealed his decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Last week, the Court of Appeal granted the appeal to Canada, but the legal reasons and processes are not yet written. The powers and jurisdiction of This Judge and the IAP adjudicators to deal with miscarriages of justice are therefore unknown at this moment. When we get that decision from the Court of Appeal, The Court will hear from St. Anne's survivors for at least one more step. Is there standing and what remedies, if any, can the court provide? The federal government is challenging Edmund Metatawabin that he does not have "Standing" to seek remedies for St. Anne's survivors. The federal government refuses to identify survivors whose stories may be believed with all this new similar fact evidence. The federal government is saying there are no penalties for withholding all this similar fact evidence, in breach of the settlement agreement, from 2006 until this last year. Yesterday, the Court ruled that no one can threaten to seek their legal costs against Edmund Metatawabin personally or any St. Anne's survivor for this next step. We hope to return to the Court on March 24, 2017. The Judge also indicated he is considering having the hearing in Northern Ontario, so that St. Anne's survivors have some chance to attend the public hearing without transportation costs keeping them from their own court hearing. That’s all for now.
I apologize for taking so long to break the silence but I have been very busy editing the first of two films, a collaboration between myself, Edmund Metatawabin, and some brave Survivors of St. Anne's Residential School. The documentary film (a student film for the moment) will officially launch in June 2017, in Toronto at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. No admission will be charged, so I hope that MANY of you can come! Keep your eyes and ears open for the launch date of 'In Jesus' Name'.