Residential school survivors battle Ottawa over access to police records

by Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

TORONTO, Cananda – Survivors of a notorious Indian residential school in northern Ontario were in court Tuesday fighting the federal government for access to thousands of documents they say are crucial to their compensation claims.

The survivors accuse Ottawa of thwarting their bid for financial redress by hiding the documentary evidence related to a provincial police investigation into St. Anne’s in Fort Albany.

The police probe in the 1990s turned up evidence of horrific abuse, including use of an electric chair and led to criminal convictions.

The federal government has maintained it has no authority to turn over the police materials.

In Ontario Superior Court, a lawyer for the Ontario Provincial Police said he had no issue turning over the records if authorized by the courts.

“In order for us to release documents, we need judicial authorization,” lawyer Norm Feaver said.

“We certainly don’t want to stand in the way of anything.”

For its part, the government now says it is taking no position regarding the documents in possession of the police.

However, government lawyer Catherine Coughlan said Ottawa could not turn over the materials it has because it received them from police on the undertaking they would not be passed on to anyone.

Some former St. Anne’s students and supporters filled the courtroom to hear the arguments over the documents.

Among them was Edmund Metatawabin, 66, a victim of the electric chair, who accused the government of trying to “hide” evidence.

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

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 the process, an independent assessment process was set up to deal with compensation claims.

Lawyer Fay Brunning, who represents some of the St. Anne’s survivors, said the claims of her clients are being hampered by the lack of access to the police documents.

“The federal government is not abiding by conditions of the settlement,” Brunning said.

She noted the government went to court in 2003, long after the criminal trials were over, and sought to have a ban imposed on the police documents pertaining to sexual and physical abuse at St. Anne’s.

“There’s relevant documentation missing that has not been produced. None of it has come forward through the (adjudication) process,” Brunning told court.

“That interferes with the flow of justice.”

But Brunning’s request to the court went further than ordering the documents turned over to the commission.

She wanted the court to issue a direction on how the documents should be used in the adjudication process, something the judge clearly had issues.

“The court can’t interfere,” said Justice Paul Perrell.

The hearings were twice interrupted when a reporter objected to a request by lawyers for the government and the adjudicator to impose a publication ban and sealing order on materials filed in the proceedings — including those already on the public record.

Later in the day, media lawyer David Tortell told the court the presumption must be one of openness, and it is up to those want a publication ban to show the necessity.

“It’s a very high burden,” Tortell said.

Perrell issued an interim order sealing most materials to allow time to hear proper arguments on the issue.

He also banned publication of identities of those going through the assessment process, unless they agree to be named.




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Residential school survivors battle Ottawa over access to police records

  1. ‘The federal government has maintained it has no authority to turn over the police materials.’

    Then resign.

  2. “In Ontario Superior Court, a lawyer for the Ontario Provincial Police
    said he had no issue turning over the records if authorized by the
    courts.

    “In order for us to release documents, we need judicial authorization,” lawyer Norm Feaver said.

    “We certainly don’t want to stand in the way of anything.”

    For its part, the government now says it is taking no position regarding the documents in possession of the police.

    However, government lawyer Catherine Coughlan said Ottawa could not
    turn over the materials it has because it received them from police on
    the undertaking they would not be passed on to anyone.”

    Well now, isn’t that just the perfect circular argument.

    • Hardly ‘circular’

      If the OPP wants to turn over their copies of whatever, it’s up to them.

      If records were copied to the federal government under privacy constraints, then the feds can;t really breach those.

      • Care to explain why the feds said they didn’t have the records for some ten years – now this. You’re awfully trusting of the govt on this question of residential schools. Their track record is consistently bad.
        Besides your argument is ridiculous. If the police are willing to release the records with a judicial warrent what possible reason would the govt have for continuing to hold copies? that amounts to a circular argument in my books.

        • What explanation is needed?

          BTW, this inquisition has not lasted as much as ten years. It was only set up in 2008.

          • The ten years was referring back to an attempt to hide the evidence back in 03 by Chretien’s govt…you didn’t even read my link did you?

          • Your link makes no reference to Chretien’s government and no reference to the files being demanded for ten years.

            Did you even read your own link?

          • “Fay Brunning, a lawyer representing some of the former students, said she pointed this out to the government. At
            first, the federal government said it had no obligation to get the
            files from provincial authorities. But Ottawa had obtained many of the
            files 10 years ago and still has them.”

            Would you like me to wipe your nose for you as well? That puts it clearly in the Chretien balliwack. In fact they made moves to “hide” the evidence in 03 – i read it elsewhere. Find it yourself if you can.

          • “had obtained” is not at all the same as “said they didn’t have”.

            They were not even asked about them ten years ago, and could not have been claiming anything.

            Your nether orifice probably needs wiping, since there is faecal leakage in evidence.

          • You fit that bill, for sure.

            Claiming one thing when your link shows something quite different is more than hair splitting, though.

          • Prove it!

          • Already done, though a certain base level of literacy would be required for you to be able to discern that.

          • Ah, another of your favourite resorts – circular arguments. I’ve proved it because I said I have.

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