Politics

NDP MPs call for investigation of child abuse at residential schools

NDP MPs Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Charlie Angus are calling on Justice Minister David Lametti to launch an investigation into "crimes against humanity" in Canada following preliminary discoveries of unmarked burial sites at former residential schools.

MPs are calling for an independent prosecutor with power to lay charges

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq speaks as NDP MP Charlie Angus holds a photo of Fr. Arthur Lavoie, who died in 1991 and was named in over 300 reports of physical and sexual abuse. The MPs are calling on Justice Minister David Lametti to investigate crimes against Indigenous people at residential schools. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

NDP MPs Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Charlie Angus are calling on Justice Minister David Lametti to launch an investigation into "crimes against humanity" in Canada following preliminary discoveries of unmarked burial sites at former residential school sites.

The MPs said Lametti must appoint an independent prosecutor with the power to bring to court those involved in the abuse of children at residential and day schools.

"Enough is enough. Indigenous people need truth and justice," Qaqqaq told a press conference this morning.

During the press conference, Qaqqaq and Angus displayed photos of two priests who have been accused of sexual and physical abuse at residential schools: Father Johannes Rivoire and the late Father Arthur Lavoie.

Lavoie was named in more than 300 claims of physical and sexual abuse during an OPP investigation into St. Anne's Indian Residential School in northern Ontario. He died in 1991.

Rivoire, originally from France, is accused of sex-related offences connected to his time in Naujaat and Rankin Inlet in the 1960s.

RCMP issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998, five years after he returned to France. For nearly two decades, people in Nunavut have been pushing for Rivoire's extradition from that country

"The abuse at his hands has caused generations of trauma," Qaqqaq said.

Father Johannes Rivoire moved to Nunavut in the 1960s and stayed there until returning to France in 1993. (Submitted by Lieve Halsberghe)

Two years ago, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) said a 2017 assessment of Rivoire's case found "there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction regarding the charges."

"Instead of facing justice for his crimes, Rivoire is living a luxurious retirement in a home for priests ... and the federal institution is doing nothing about it," Qaqqaq said.

The MPs want a special prosecutor with the authority to seek advice from the International Criminal Court, to subpoena documents from the federal government and church institutions and to make those documents public.

Qaqqaq said the investigation shouldn't stop with residential schools but should extend to other institutions such as federal day schools, which operated separately from residential schools but were run by many of the same groups.

WARNING: Video contains details some viewers may find distressing.

Nunavut MP says her constituents are still struggling with the legacy of residential schools.

5 months ago
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NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq spoke with reporters on Parliament Hill on Thursday​. 3:06

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did examine and report on the history and legacy of Canada's residential school system. Angus said that was only a first step.

"(The TRC) did not have a mandate to pursue justice and to go after the perpetrators. Canadians and Indigenous communities are calling for justice," he said.

Qaqqaq called on Lametti directly to act.

"Minister Lametti, don't you dare tell me you can't do this. You have the authority. You just refuse to use it and that needs to end today," she said.

Police investigation must come first, expert says

When asked if Lametti would appoint a special prosecutor, the minister's office said he does not have the power to initiate criminal investigations.

"This is an exclusive power of the police," Lametti's press secretary Chantalle Aubertin said in an emailed statement. "We will consider all options that will allow the survivors, their communities and the country to move forward on the path to healing and reconciliation."

University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes echoed Lametti's argument that a police investigation needs to take place before the attorney general can act.

"Depending on what is the finding of such investigations, it is only then that the discussion takes place with the Crown prosecutors to see what charges etc. are to be laid," Mendes said in an email.

"The sanctity of the criminal justice process requires such a police investigation first."

The federal government has pledged $27 million to help Indigenous communities identify burial sites. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said recently that dollar amount will grow.

How to get help

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and for those triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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