[News] Canada accused of hiding indigenous child abuse evidence
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 6 15:48:55 EST 2014
*Canada accused of hiding child abuse evidence *
*Documents detailing abuse at schools for aboriginal children taken from
their families were withheld, say victims. *
updated: 06 Jan 2014 10:2
*Toronto, Canada* - When Edmund Metatawabin was five years old, he was
sent to a remote church-run school for aboriginal children in Canada
where he, and hundreds of others, say they faced years of abuse and torture.
Metatawabin spent about 10 years at the school, beginning in the 1950s.
One morning, he says, he was feeling ill and threw up while eating
porridge. He says he was slapped and told to go upstairs. When he felt
better - four days later - he went back to the dining hall and was
forced to eat his own vomit.
"I was given that porridge I got sick on and I had to eat that ... And
if you don't eat, then you're going to get beat up some more, and you're
going to get punished - and if you throw up again you're going to have
to eat that too, so what choice do you have?"
Metatawabin, 66, says at times he and his classmates were forced to sit
in an electric chair - either as punishment or as entertainment for the
staff at St Anne's Indian Residential School, which operated from the
early 1900s to 1976 in northern Ontario province.
Now, Metatawabin says, the government is hiding information about the
St Anne's was part of a government-supported school system to
"assimilate" aboriginal children. About 150,000 indigenous children were
forcibly removed from their families by the federal government for
decades starting in the 1800s and put into church-run "residential
Many suffered physical and sexual abuse and squalid living conditions,
and a Truth and Reconciliation Committee *recently said
at least 4,000 children died - a number that could be much higher.
*Not an isolated case*
Dozens of former St Anne's students are seeking documents they say will
support their claims of abuse to present to private compensation
hearings, in which victims tell their stories to an adjudicator.
Fay Brunning, a lawyer representing about 60 victims, says the Canadian
government had been hiding evidence by withholding those documents,
which include police files and transcripts from trials of alleged abusers.
"There was such widespread abuse there I think they were afraid of how
many claims they would get out of St Anne's ... they wanted to make sure
they paid as few people as they could," says Brunning.
In 1992, Metatawabin, who at the time was chief of the community where
the school had been located, helped organise a conference of former
students where they shared their stories.
An investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police followed, leading to
charges against seven former employees. According to the Canadian Press
news agency, five of them were convicted, including for assault causing
bodily harm, indecent assault and administering a noxious substance.
Brunning says many abusers escaped justice because they died before
charges were brought. She says the government obtained a significant
amount of police files and trial transcripts in 2003, but only admitted
it had them in 2013. The government is legally obliged to provide all
documents relating to abuse at residential schools, says Brunning.
She argues having these documents would greatly support a victim's story
during hearings for compensation because the adjudicator would know
about convictions of those accused of abuse, the evidence that was
provided in court at the time, as well as the allegations made during
the police investigation.
Brunning says former students are being re-victimised because they are
being put into vulnerable positions to face powerful lawyers without all
the evidence to support their claims. "There's an overall recognition
[that] what happened to them is wrong - but then it's happening again.
The actual knowledge of proven abuse, proven in criminal courts of law,
[has] been covered up ... and it's extremely unfair."
Neither the department of justice nor department of aboriginal affairs
would grant Al Jazeera interviews for this report.
However, the office of the aboriginal affairs minister emailed a
statement, saying: "Our government takes our obligations under the
Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement seriously and we
continue to ensure that the government fulfills its obligations under
the Agreement. In order to bring clarity to these issues, we are seeking
direction from the Ontario Superior Court with respect to the Ontario
Provincial Police documents. We look forward to receiving the court's
In a document submitted to the court, the government says the files are
unlikely to be useful for claimants seeking compensation. The government
has also argued there are privacy concerns in handing over documents
However, Brunning says the files would be kept confidential during the
private hearings of victims.
New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus, whose constituency includes the
community where St Anne's was located, says there are means in place to
keep a victim's privacy and the government is using such concerns to
"I can't for the life of me in 2013 understand why a government would
choose to cover up the horrific abuse that happened at St Anne's, why
they would side with the perpetrators rather than the victims," Angus says.
Metatawabin says aboriginal elders encouraged victims to tell their
stories, and the community has not raised concerns of privacy in the
government handing over the files. "Did we ever say anything about
privacy? The government says that and that's an excuse, privacy is just
an excuse ... to hide everything."
Ultimately though, once the issue was brought to court in mid-December,
the government did not oppose handing over the police files and trial
transcripts, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
on residential schools, which also requested the documents
Brunning says while this was a major victory for victims, trust in the
system has now been lost. She is asking the court to order an affidavit
from the government - listing all the documents in its possession
relating to abuse at St Anne's - and to set up a neutral body to monitor
the process. She says there could be other files the government is hiding.
Abuse was not limited to St Anne's. In December, the CBC reported
a former supervisor at another residential school was given three years
in jail for sexually abusing boys, drawing criticism from victims that
the punishment was too lenient. The prosecutor had asked for 11 years in
*'Like little white children'*
In 2007, thousands of lawsuits from former students across the country
led to Canada's largest class-action settlement. The Indian Residential
Schools Settlement Agreement was established to provide compensation to
those abused. Between the 1860s and 1990s, 150,000 aboriginal children
attended these schools, which were normally run by churches but funded
by the government, according to a report
It states the widespread physical and sexual abuse - and loss of
aboriginal culture - led to the traumatisation of generations of
children, high mortality rates, low educational levels, and destruction
of aboriginal families.
Metatawabin says the St Anne's staff insulted his family and appearance
to erode his identity. As was common in residential schools, he was
banned from speaking his aboriginal language.
"We were supposed to come out of [a] residential school like little
white children, speaking English and thinking like the way the English
All nine of his siblings attended the school, meaning his father had to
send a child there every year for 10 years. Each sibling faced similar
The abuse at St Anne's is considered among the worst that occurred
within the residential school system.
"It represents the most extreme examples of abuse that certainly have
come to my attention so far, short of murder. It's obvious the children
were tortured in horrific circumstances,"* *says Julian Falconer, a
lawyer for the TRC.
It is not known when the court will hand down a decision, but Brunning
says the judge knows the issue is urgent as some of the claimants are
elderly. Time has run out for others, though. Of the 150,000 children
sent to residential schools, the TRC estimates just 80,000 are still living.
As for Metatawabin, he is following the advice of aboriginal elders and
sharing his story so that people can better understand the struggles of
"Every time I do this, it's not a threat anymore, and it doesn't get me
down anymore. I do it so that [people] will learn about what [we] went
through ... and that when you see a person on the street, you will know
they were treated very badly as a child."
*/Follow Kristina Jovanovski on Twitter: @K_Jovanovski
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News