APTN National News
NDP MP Charlie Angus has asked the federal Information Commissioner to investigate Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s department over its “obstruction” in the release of documents related to Ottawa’s handling of cases from Indian residential school survivors who attended an institution notorious for its use of an electric chair.
Justice Canada recently released a second batch of Access to Information requested documents related to Ottawa’s handling of St. Anne’s Indian residential school compensation cases. The federal department, which released an initial batch in April, provided the documents under a legal threat from the Office of Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault.
However, both batches were almost totally redacted, said Angus.
“I am deeply disturbed by this pattern of obstruction because it raises questions about the operating culture of the department that was found to have suppressed thousands of pages of evidence related to crimes committed against survivors of St. Anne’s residential school,” wrote Angus in his June 27 letter to Legault. “At issue here is whether or not the Justice department of Canada is accountable to the laws of the country, including the orders from the Office of the Information Commissioner. Therefore I am asking you to launch an investigation into the Justice department’s ongoing obstruction of access to these documents.”
The Office of the Information Commissioner said it could not confirm or deny an open investigation.
“All investigations conducted by our office are subject to strict confidentiality obligations,” said spokesperson Natalie Bartlett, in an emailed statement. “I can confirm that when a valid complaint is filed, the Information Commissioner must investigate.”
Justice Canada continues to face court action from survivors who attended St. Anne’s Indian residential school and are seeking the disclosure of discovery documents from a civil case in Cochrane, Ont., from 2003—before the signing of the Indian residential school settlement agreement.
The survivors have taken the issue to the Ontario Court of Appeal after failing to convince Superior Court of Ontario Justice Paul Perell to order the documents’ release. Perell ruled the documents were protected by settlement and discovery privilege.
Justice Canada initially sat on thousands of Ontario Provincial Police documents from an investigation into physical and sexual abuse that occurred at St. Anne’s Indian residential school. Despite having the documents in its filing cabinets, Justice Canada did not include this evidence in the description of the residential school used during Independent Assessment Process (IAP) hearings. Ottawa’s school description of St. Anne’s, also known as a school narrative, claimed there was no documented proof of sexual abuse.
Justice Canada was forced to release the documents to survivors as the result of a 2015 Superior Court ruling from Perell.
Angus has been trying to use Access to Information legislation to understand why Justice Canada failed to disclose the OPP records which would have substantiated claims of abuse filed by St. Anne’s survivors.
“Our country deserves to know what decisions were made and why,” wrote Angus, in his complaint letter to Legault. “The role of the Justice department is to uphold the law of Canada and not to protect the political machinations of ministers of the Crown. The treatment of the survivors of St. Anne’s residential school is a black mark on the promise of reconciliation.”
IAP hearings were created to decide compensation levels for abuse suffered by residential school survivors as part of the multi-billion dollar settlement agreement.
St. Anne’s residential school sat in the community of Fort Albany along Ontario’s James Bay coast which is also part of Angus’ riding.
Angus is also running for the leadership of the NDP.