Student-on-student abuse in residential schools an 'unspoken truth,' says Senator Murray Sinclair
Abuse led to intergenerational legacy of trauma that continues to haunt families, former TRC chairman says
The former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls "student-on-student" abuse one untold story of Canada's residential school legacy — an issue he says is linked to persistent sexual abuse and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and two-spirited Indigenous people.
Senator Murray Sinclair, who was appointed to the upper chamber in 2016 — the year after his commission delivered its final report — described the physical and sexual abuse among residential school students as a means for young people to inflict violence.
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Sex was often used as a tool of violence between the school's students, resulting in an intergenerational legacy of trauma that continues to haunt families to this day.
"These are perpetrators who brought to that relationship of violence a belief that people who were like that were not worthy of respect," Sinclair said in an interview.
"As adults, they still carry that belief with them."
Sinclair said he heard about older students abusing their younger counterparts — male and female alike — both physically and sexually.
"Part of that can be attributed to that fact that's how they were abused, and that's how they were treated by ... the adults within the schools that they went to."
Many former victims who haven't come terms with their abuse go on to mistreat their own children, he added.
"Many people didn't want to talk to [the commission] about student-on-student abuse because they were often still living in the community with their abuser," he said.
"They were often still in a position where their abuser was now a person of prominence in their community, a leader, an elected leader or an elder."
The commission also had evidence that victims of abuse by other students waited until the last possible minute to file their legal claims for compensation because they were waiting to see if perpetrators would die so they could avoid having to confront them, he said.
In addition to providing compensation to former students, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement called for the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Its six-year study explored the legacy of the government-funded, church-run residential schools where students experienced abuse by clergy and other staff.