Lawyers told to take ‘the truth’ back to Ottawa

Canadian Human Rights Tribunal tours former Catholic day school

Hereditary Chief Ronnie Alec led the site tour for tribunal members who were told the school’s boiler room and gym were violent places for First Nations children. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN

The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line provides 24-hour support to former Indian Residential School students and their families toll-free at 1-866-925-4419.

Lawyers at a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal listened intently as a day school survivor described the childhood horrors he experienced in the boiler room of Immaculata Elementary School.

“This was a torture chamber,” said Ronnie Alec, a hereditary chief of Lake Babine First Nation in northern British Columbia.

“You guys go back to Ottawa and explain it to them. This is the truth.”

The room was identified in testimony by Carrier Sekani day school survivors this week as a place of repeated physical abuse at the Catholic-run institution that closed in 1986.

“It was a noisy room that covered up the screams,” said Richard Perry, who testified about beatings with a strap and a ruler he endured as a boy in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

READ MORE: Human rights tribunal into complaint against RCMP underway in Burns Lake, B.C.

Alec, who was not a witness, agreed to conduct the site tour Friday and placed special emphasis on the boiler room and space that used to be the gym.

“I want everyone to know,” said Alec, from the bottom of the stairs in the basement room as members of the tribunal looked on.

“The Catholic church gets all (of) the blame. But who sent them here?” he asked. “The government.”

Ronnie Alec is a hereditary chief of Lake Babine First Nation and a day school survivor. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN

The day school was run by the Catholic Church and funded by the Canadian government. It was part of a century-long network of Indigenous day and boarding schools across the country that forced First Nations, Métis and Inuit children to abandon their language and culture.

That disconnection from their families and roots created trauma that has plagued communities for generations, said Lake Babine elected Chief Murphy Abraham.

“I’m one of those day school survivors,” he said on Monday. “I’m one of those that have been physically, mentally and verbally abused in these schools. And I’m the one that had to pull myself out of that mindset…

“Growing up I resorted to cocaine, I resorted to alcohol, I resorted to prescription drugs for many years…beause of the trauma that we’ve gone through.”

Immaculata now operates as a Catholic church in Burns Lake, about 200 km west of Prince George, where the tribunal on Friday wrapped up its first of two weeks of in-person testimony in a discrimination complaint against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).


The remaining eight weeks of testimony, including 10 police witnesses, are scheduled to be heard virtually May 22 to June 1 and June 12 to June 22.

The hearing was called in response to a 2016 human rights complaint from a group of Immaculata survivors. They allege their 2012 criminal complaint to the Prince George RCMP against a teacher for years of verbal and physical abuse in the gym, boiler room and hallways wasn’t taken seriously.

They claim the RCMP discriminated against them “with stereotypes and biased attitudes” because of their race and favoured the teacher, who is being referred to as A.B. under a publication ban at the hearing.

The visit to the former school and Alec’s emotional account of children being berated, shoved, strapped and locked outdoors in frigid winter weather moved one of the lawyers to tears.

READ MORE: Witness calls teacher a ‘muscle guy’ at former Catholic day school in northern B.C.

Alec said his seven-year-old sister died at the school.

He also expressed concern about Perry, who was in a Vancouver hospital Friday following his testimony because his sister Myrtle Perry said he suffered a stroke.

“I want all of you guys to see,” said Alec, who is still a practising Catholic, “all of our people – that what we went through wasn’t a lie. It wasn’t a lie at all.”

The former school now operates as a Catholic church in Burns Lake, B.C. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN

Whitney Dunn, a Department of Justice lawyer representing the RCMP, said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge A.B. after an 18-month investigation by three officers who interviewed 37 people.

“That the investigation did not end with conclusion that perhaps the complainants would wish does not mean that there was discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act,” noted Dunn at the start of the hearing.

But the complainants allege the RCMP did not take into consideration the mistrustful relationship between Indigenous peoples and the national police force that used to take children from their families and deliver them to residential schools while threatening parents with arrest.

As a result, both sides view each other with suspicion and are rarely on the same page.

Alec spoke to that in the church.

He said the RCMP were too busy “protecting pipeline” workers in northern B.C. than solving cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and other crimes important to First Nations people.

Freelance journalist

Karen Bellehumeur, lead lawyer for the survivors, has more than 20 witnesses scheduled to testify about verbal and physical abuse they blame on A.B., which they first shared with freelance journalist Laura Robinson in 2012.

Robinson’s involvement was viewed negatively by the investigating officers who feel it “contaminated” the survivors’ accounts, Dunn said.

Robinson rejected that allegation and Dunn’s attempts to paint her as using vulnerable survivors to attack A.B. as part of a personal vendetta.

However, Robinson did confirm she wrote the 2017 complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission under the direction of survivors that resulted in the hearing.

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