Hunt for abusers may deter survivors: lawyer

A northern lawyer says the federal government’s plan to hire private investigators to find abusers could cause more harm than good.
'A lot of survivors will not proceed if they know their abuser will be contacted,' says Steven Cooper, a northern lawyer who has represented former residential school students for nearly two decades. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-042133)

The federal government is seeking private investigators to find as many as 1,000 clergy members, former residential school staff, and students responsible for abuse in residential schools, but one northern lawyer says hunting down abusers could cause more harm than good.

Steven Cooper, who has represented former residential school students for nearly two decades, says he's worried about the negative impacts.

“It is really intimidating,” Cooper says. “A lot of survivors will not proceed if they know their abuser will be contacted. Even if the person of interest doesn't go ahead with the hearing, they are aware of the allegations which, frankly, can be really dangerous to the survivor, both to their mental health and physical well being.”

Aboriginal Affairs says alleged perpetrators will have an opportunity to voluntarily participate in a court-ordered Independent Assessment Process, and will be given a chance to answer to the crimes they're accused of.

Cooper says it’s just not  money well spent.

“They should be looking into the deaths of so many residential school students,” Cooper says. “Take that million dollars and put it to good use.”

The search will take investigators from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and throughout Canada's North.

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