Residential school documents will be released, Ottawa says
Aboriginal affairs minister says government will comply with court ruling tied to St. Anne's school
About 60 residential school survivors have been successful in their bid to have files from the Ontario Provincial Police released in order to support their claims for compensation for abuse.
In a written decision released Tuesday, Ontario Superior Court Judge Paul Perell ruled the documents from a five-year investigation at St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany be turned over. The criminal investigation was conducted in the 1990s.
The federal government confirmed Wednesday it would comply with the judge's ruling.
"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," said a statement from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt's office.
"This ruling is the result of our government seeking direction from the court on whether we could disclose St. Anne’s Residential School documents that were provided to us by the Ontario Provincial Police."
Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair applauded the decision.
"The release of these records is critical not only to survivors who were badly abused, but to Canadians as a whole," he said in a written statement.
"Reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in Canada depends on a shared and complete understanding of the residential school experience."
Lawyer Fay Brunning, who represents several former students, said Ottawa has been rebuked.
"They're absolutely wrong at law and how they've conducted themselves," she said.
"St. Anne's was, quite frankly, a house of horrors. It was awful — full of pedophiles and abusers. And that has not been reflected by the federal government in what it has told individual adjudicators."
The federal government cited privacy concerns when arguing against disclosing the files, and argued evidence from investigations and trials pertaining to certain victims should not be used for claimants not involved in those cases.
But Perell said in his decision that the government misinterpreted its disclosure obligations and should turn over the documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"If truth and reconciliation is to be achieved … [and to be] a genuine expression of Canada's request for forgiveness for failing our aboriginal peoples so profoundly, the justness of the system for the compensation for the victims must be protected," he said.
"The substantive and procedural access to justice of the [Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement], like any class action, must also be protected and vouched safe. The court has the jurisdiction to ensure that the IRSSA provides both procedural and substantive access to justice."
Hundreds of aboriginal children from remote James Bay communities were sent to St. Anne's from 1904 to 1976.
St. Anne's was the site of some of the worst cases of abuse in the country, including physical and sexual abuse. Survivors tell stories of children being forced to eat their own vomit and of the nuns and brothers shocking children as young as six in a homemade electric chair.
With files from The Canadian Press