Nfld. & Labrador

Strapped, bullied and sexually assaulted at residential school, ex-student testifies

Former students who claim they were abused at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador took the stand at Supreme Court on Monday.

Toby Obed says former students in North West River were scared of staff

Toby Obed fought back tears as he told the court how staff would make students have sex on field trips and forced others to watch. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

An Inuit man told a St. John's courtroom Monday that he never felt loved at the Labrador residential school he was forced to attend, and that punishment against Inuit students was very common. 

Toby Obed said students at the North West River school were also bullied and taunted but staff did nothing to protect them.

"We were scared of staff. They could do or say anything at anytime," Obed sobbed as he testified during a class action lawsuit at Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Obed fought back tears as he told the court how staff would make students have sex on field trips and forced others to watch.

Obed cried out that he was sexually assaulted at the age of seven by an older child who was at the junior dormitory in North West River.

Dozens of former Newfoundland and Labrador residential school students who claim they were abused at the schools are set to testify at Supreme Court. (CBC)

Obed is one of more than 1,000 former Newfoundland and Labrador residential school students seeking apology and compensation in a class action suit that started last week. He is the first of dozens of former students who are expected to testify. 

Lawyers for the students told the court that the former residents will be made to re-live all of the painful abuse they suffered.

Not allowed to attend funerals

Obed said he was taken from his family before he was four years old and sent to dormitory in North West River, in central Labrador. 

He told the court how he was kept from his parents, and that when he was told they had died in the 1980s, he was not allowed to attend the funerals.

​Obed said he remembers students being strapped for speaking Inuktitut. He was strapped many times on the back of his hands, and said if he cried or moved, he would be strapped again.

His sister was once fluent in the Inuit language but Obed said she has lost it because she was forbidden to speak it. 

"She forgot, she forgot," said Obed."It's not right."

At one point Monday, the court was forced to take a break when Obed was unable to contain his emotions.

He said he didn't want to continue on the stand, but did, adding that he was speaking for all the people who can't.

When testimony resumed, Obed said children who wet their beds were forced to stay there all day, and were not allowed to speak to anyone.

Under cross-examination, Obed was questioned by lawyers for both the Government of Canada and the International Grenfell Association, who asked about the punishment that students received.

Obed replied giving names of teachers and staff that he remembered were responsible. 

The International Grenfell Association lawyer tried to establish that its members were unaware of any abuse that Obed suffered.

A lawyer for the federal government asked Obed if he thought the government knew what was happening to him. 

"No," Obed replied.

Obed said testifying was very painful but he is relieved that it is over. Obed hopes this class-action suit will result in an apology for the Newfoundland and Labrador survivors, similar to apologies given to other former residential school students across Canada.

With files from Mark Quinn

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