Indigenous

Residential school survivor wants criminal case reopened against former child care worker

A survivor of one of Canada's most notorious residential schools wants the criminal case against his alleged abuser — which ended with the withdrawal of a charge of indecent assault — reopened. 

Charge initially laid against former staff member in the 1990s was withdrawn

A photo of Simeon Solomon, aged 11, when he attended St. Anne's residential school. (Submitted by Simeon Solomon)

A survivor of one of Canada's most notorious residential schools wants the criminal case against his alleged abuser — which ended with the withdrawal of a charge of indecent assault — reopened.

Simeon Solomon's allegations led to a 1997 charge of indecent assault against a former child care worker at St. Anne's residential school, which sat in Fort Albany near Ontario's James Bay coast.

The charge was withdrawn in 1998 after Solomon failed to show up for a preliminary hearing.

Solomon, now 62, was employed by the Fort Albany band at the time of the hearing and said he didn't make the court date because he had worked until 2 a.m. that day and missed the only flight out of the community at 8 a.m.

Solomon said he tried to get a charter flight out, but foggy conditions grounded him.

"He walked away. He got away," said Solomon.

Solomon said his time at St. Anne's, where he attended from 1966 until 1973, destroyed his life and it's taken him decades to come to terms with everything he endured.

Solomon said he tried to reopen the case over the last few years — approaching the Ontario Provincial Police in 2016 and the Crown in Timmins, Ont., in 2018 — to no avail.

Solomon, who received about $62,000 in compensation for abuse he suffered at St. Anne's under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), said he said he decided to go public as a final recourse.

Part of 1990s OPP investigation

In 1992, the OPP began an investigation that produced thousands of pages of records including about 900 statements from 700 victims describing assaults, sexual assaults, suspicious deaths and a multitude of abuses at St. Anne's from 1941 to 1972.

In the end, investigators identified 74 people as suspects, seven were charged — including the former child care worker accused by Solomon — and five were convicted.

During his 1992 interview with the OPP, Solomon said he was the victim of abuse that occured in the shower at St. Anne's.

"I remember he was smoking a cigarette… I had my head turned the other way. I knew what he was doing was wrong," said Solomon, according to a transcript of his statement to the OPP, obtained by CBC News, describing the incident.

The OPP charged Claude Chénier in 1997 with one count of indecent assault against Solomon which allegedly occurred during the 1970-71 school year, as reported in volume one, part two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report on the history of residential schools.

Chénier was hired by the federal Indian Affairs department and began working at St. Anne's on Oct. 1, 1970, as a child care worker in the boys section of the school, according to OPP files previously obtained by CBC News. Chénier officially resigned from the position in August 1971, the records show.

The charge against Chénier was withdrawn and Chénier has never been convicted of any crime nor charged with any additional offences connected to events at St. Anne's.

A charge of indecent assault against Claude Chenier was withdrawn in 1998. (https://uqo.ca/)

Chénier, who is interim director general and secretary-treasurer at regional county municipality Des Collines-de-l'Outaouais in Chelsea, Que., about 24 km north of Ottawa, said in an email that he is innocent of the allegations.

"I continue to reaffirm my innocence regarding the allegations that supposedly took place 50 years ago," wrote Chénier, in the email.

"More than 20 years ago, the judicial system was apprised of these allegations and no proof was ever presented against me to support them. Consequently, the allegations were subsequently withdrawn. My reputation continues to be irreproachable and this fact is very important for me. I ask that you cautiously respect this fact."

In 1997, when Chénier was charged, he was dean of academics at Heritage College in Gatineau, Que., and received full support from the college's administration, according to a report in the Ottawa Citizen.

"I have utmost confidence in him," college president Lawrence Kolesar told the newspaper.

Chénier has also served on the Université du Québec en Outaouais's board of governance and sat on its ethics, audit and honours committee, according to the university's website.

Crown wouldn't reopen case

In 2016, Solomon spoke with one of the lead OPP officers on the St. Anne's investigation and was told the police force would not reopen the case, according to a February 2018 letter written by Dale Cox, a Crown prosecutor based in Timmins, Ont., to one of Solomon's former lawyers. Timmins is the nearest urban hub to Fort Albany, about 400 kilometres away.

In the letter, Cox said the Crown also wouldn't reinitiate the case because he did not believe there was a legitimate chance of conviction. Cox wrote that Supreme Court decisions like the 2016 Jordan decision on timely trials would open the case to a charter defence.

"This request, some 45 years after the original events and almost 20 years since the matter was last before the courts, engages a number of difficult issues," wrote Cox.

"I expect that the defence would reasonably contend that the re-laying of the charges would constitute an abuse of process and that Mr. Chénier's ability to make full answer and defence would be significantly compromised by the passage of time."

Simeon Solomon was abused at St. Anne's residential school. (Submitted by Simeon Solomon)

In the letter, Cox wrote that he reviewed archived files on the case which stated the charge against Chénier was withdrawn "due to the failure of the complainant to appear before the court two days in a row" and that "complainant failed to show up despite repeated efforts."

Solomon insists he missed only one court date.

Cox did not respond to a request for comment.

Bruce Boyden, a Toronto-based lawyer, said Cox's answer was nothing more than a "brush-off." He said the Crown does have a case to re-initiate proceedings.

"He's been consistent throughout the years on what happened," said Boyden, who has been friends with Solomon for years and has represented him on other cases.

Suffered other abuse

Solomon said other things happened to him at St. Anne's that he never disclosed to the OPP during his 1992 interview, including an alleged incident of rape.

"I was drunk all these years, hiding behind the bottle. The thoughts would come back and haunt me," said Solomon.

"I only started talking about that because that is what I cannot erase."

He said the first time he revealed everything that allegedly happened to him at the institution was to his mother in December 1998.

"I was drinking, my mother said, 'Son, why are you drinking so much?' I looked at her and I burst out crying and I told her," said Solomon.

St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont. in the 1940s. The building was destroyed by a fire in 2002. (Algoma University/Edmund Metatawabin Collection)

Solomon described the alleged rape to CBC News and it matches his 2002 discovery transcript from a lawsuit launched by St. Anne's residential school survivors against the federal government and Catholic orders that ran the school — the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of Charity.

The lawsuit was launched before the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was finalized in 2006.

"That's rape. When you take something that's precious to the individual," said Solomon, according to the transcript.

"I thought I was the bad person….because I allowed… I was scared."

He is now considering filing a complaint based on this alleged sexual assault he said he never disclosed to police.

A spokesperson for the OPP said if Solomon reported the alleged assault it would be investigated.

"We certainly want to have a wholesome and fulsome investigation conducted," said OPP spokesperson Sgt. Kerry Schmidt.

"We understand the trauma that has been endured by so many victims and they may not recall everything at a moment of providing a statement. If Simeon, or anyone else, believes there are more crimes that have been committed, we will take that seriously."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

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