[News] Canada accused of hiding indigenous child abuse evidence

Anti-Imperialist News 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. *

Kristina Jovanovski 
<http://www.aljazeera.com/profile/kristina-jovanovski.html> Last 
updated: 06 Jan 2014 10:2
*http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/01/canada-accused-hiding-child-abuse-evidence-201413134751202500.html*

*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 
school.

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 
schools".

Many suffered physical and sexual abuse and squalid living conditions, 
and a Truth and Reconciliation Committee *recently said 
<http://www.leaderpost.com/life/Aboriginal+children+kept+safe/9348721/story.html>* 
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.

*'Re-victimisation'*

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 
decision."

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 
detailing abuse.

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 
protect itself.

"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 
<http://www.falconers.ca/documents/FactumOPPDocumentsreStAnnesResidentialSchoolFINAL.pdf>.

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 
<http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/paul-leroux-gets-3-years-for-residential-school-abuse-1.2461629> that 
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 
prison.

*'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 
<http://www.falconers.ca/documents/Interim_report_English_electronic_copy.pdf> by 
the TRC.

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 
people think."

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 
abuse.

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 
his people.

"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 
<https://twitter.com/K_Jovanovski>/*

-- 
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