A human rights tribunal heard Friday an alternative exists to RCMP in British Columbia investigating historical abuse complaints from residential and day school survivors.
Judith Sayers, a lawyer, band chief and board member of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC), said the organization is in the process of establishing 15 Indigenous justice centres across the province.
“We want to make things better,” Sayers testified. “We know that the system as it is now – the interviewing of complaints by survivors of residential school – have been difficult with the RCMP.
“You need to recall that it was the RCMP that took our children to residential schools. So when you’re sitting in front of an RCMP officer that took you off to residential school it’s difficult.”
Sayers testified virtually in the ongoing discrimination complaint against the RCMP made by a group of survivors of Immaculata Catholic Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C.
The group claimed in 2020 its 50-year-old allegations of physical and sexual abuse against a teacher at Immaculata weren’t handled properly by the RCMP in nearby Prince George in 2012.
They further allege the attitudes and techniques of the RCMP discriminated against them in favour of the teacher, who cannot be named due to a publication ban.
Sayers, chair of the BCFNJC’s policing and accountability committee, said the justice centres are staffed by Indigenous lawyers, advisors and counsellors. She said their mandate is to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the child welfare and justice systems.
But their work could be expanded, she agreed, to include investigators who “really knew the impact the residential school has had on people.”
A member of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation in B.C., Sayers noted First Nations people have the right to have their own systems in place. And complainants could still choose to be interviewed by the RCMP.
Karen Bellehumeur, lawyer for the survivors, said her clients asked Sayers for input because they are seeking an alternative after their experiences with the RCMP.
“The remedy is rooted in the assertion that no amount of training or policy reform could dismantle systemic discrimination or the racism that exists in the RCMP,” she said.
More than 200,000 children were forced into day schools and approximately 150,000 into residential schools as part of a century-long, Christian education assimilation program run by the federal government. Many survivors suffered loss of identity and culture while being subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse by religious personnel.
So far the tribunal has heard more than 30 days of evidence in Woodgate et al. v. RCMP, including an apology from one of the investigating officers for subjecting a female survivor to a lie detector test over her sexual abuse allegation against A.B.
The RCMP closed their investigation without charges in 2013.
The hearing is scheduled to resume in December.