Ottawa will turn over police records to residential school survivors


OTTAWA – The federal government agreed Wednesday to turn over thousands of police documents that survivors of a notorious aboriginal residential school say are crucial to their compensation claims.

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the government would comply with a Tuesday ruling by an Ontario Superior Court judge that ordered it to hand over the documents in its possession.

“We are pleased that the court clarified we can disclose St. Anne’s Residential School documents, and, now that we have the court’s permission, we will do so,” Erica Meekes said in an email.

Survivors of the northern Ontario school had taken the federal government to court over access to thousands of documents from a provincial police investigation in the 1990s.

The police found evidence of horrific abuse — including the use of an electrified chair — against the aboriginal students.

The federal government had argued it lacked the authority to turn over the documents because it received them from police on the condition they would not be passed on to anyone.

But Justice Paul Perell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the federal government must surrender the material.

“Canada has too narrowly interpreted its disclosure obligations,” Perell wrote in his decision.

“I do not need to decide whether Canada did this in bad faith, and I rather assume that its officials mistakenly misconstrued their obligations and misread the scope of their obligations.

“That said, in my opinion, there has been non-compliance and Canada can and must do more in producing documents about the events at St. Anne’s.”

Hundreds of aboriginal children from remote James Bay communities were sent to the school between 1904 and 1976.

Several adults were convicted in the 1990s following an intensive investigation into claims of abuses at the school, which included children being placed on an electrified chair and jolted with shocks.

To settle a class-action suit arising out of the residential school system, the federal government apologized and set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the abuses.

As part of that, an independent assessment process was created to deal with compensation claims.

Lawyer Fay Brunning, who represents some St. Anne’s survivors, scoffed at the government’s response. She said the government should have handed over the documents at the beginning of the assessment process.

“It’s a spin, because they should have done this six years ago,” Brunning said in an interview.

“They should have had their questions answered six years ago.”

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Ottawa will turn over police records to residential school survivors

  1. Why work when you can sue?

    Don’t get me wrong, wrongs were done. But why wait so long to make claims? Wait until witness are dead then make your own truths? Sure, some got abused but I would also bet many are using it as an excuse for money. But without brining the original perps to justice, I see that these claims are too late.

    • The school was closed in 1976. The documents they are requesting are from the 1990’s. Several people were sent to jail as a result of those investigations. Can you give me a reason why these documents should not be released? ‘Cause I’ve pretty much demolished your insinuations.

      If your government decides to violate the sanctity of the family, steal children, and send those children to institutions with no oversight, then you pretty much are going to end up with liabilities that have to be paid. Preferably before all the witnesses are dead.

  2. Maclean’s, is it really necessary to refer to former residents as “survivors”? That seems to me highly prejudicial.

    • Pete,
      Inflammatory words make for better print. They could just have easily described the former students as “now able to read and write”…but that doesn’t sell papers or magazines.
      The abuse that went on in these schools was terrible, but it was no more terrible than what some in the clergy did to white kids at Mount Cashel.
      The difference of course, is that ripping native kids away from their families and putting them in these conditions was Government policy.
      The Residential School system was a truly horrible experience for many of these young kids, but as in many cases, people who were NOT sexually or physically abused, will still demand some form of compensation, because being taken from your family is still abuse in my books.
      Sadly, though…..we all know, that there will be many lawyers standing by ready to take a huge cut of the settlements.