NDP MP calls Supreme Court decision on residential school documents a ‘slap in the face’

An NDP MP says the party is extremely disappointed the Supreme Court of Canada has decided it will not hear an appeal from survivors in northern Ontario to access their residential school documents.

“Now the Supreme Court says, ‘well you know we’re not even going to tell you why we don’t think your case is worthy of merit,’” Charlie Angus told Nation to Nation guest host Fraser Needham. “I think that is the worst slap in the face.”

Survivors of the former St. Anne’s residential school, located near Fort Albany have been fighting the federal government for years to release all school documents.

The government says it has met its legal obligations in terms of releasing documents but survivors say otherwise and had petitioned Canada’s top court to hear their case.

On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court announced it had rejected the leave for appeal.

As is typical in these decisions, no reasons were given by the court.

Angus has been working closely with survivors of the former Catholic-run school and he said sadly the ones he talked to were not necessarily surprised with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I think one of the things the St. Anne’s survivors really wanted to show is that they weren’t broken. That they were proud and they were going to stand up to Canada and they have stood up to Canada,” he said.

“It’s just that Canada’s court systems continue to trust the government when there should be no trust government in terms of what has been done in the miscarriage of justice against Indigenous people and certainly the ongoing injustice against survivors of St. Anne’s.”

A Toronto lawyer says the Ontario government needs to be more transparent when it comes to Indigenous children in care.

“There is currently no data collected by the ministry or the agencies that tell us whether or not we’re doing a good job when kids come into the system,” Sarah Clarke told N2N.

Clarke was speaking from Hamilton where a coroner’s inquest into the 2018 death of 16-year-old Devon Freeman wrapped up on Thursday.

His body was found hanging from a tree less than 40 metres away from the care home he had been staying at in April of that year.

Freeman had been reported missing from the Lynwood-Charlton Centre’s Flamborough site in Hamilton six months earlier.

Clarke is representing the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation which Freeman was a member of.

Over the course of the month-long inquest, the jury heard of how there had been little communication between police, the care home, children’s aid society, and Ontario Ministry of Social Services when Freeman went missing.

For example, police had been unaware he was suicidal at the time of his disappearance.

The jury also heard how the Chippewas of Georgina Island had consistently been left out of the loop when it came to developments on the teen’s file.

Clarke said she hopes the jury seriously considers a number of the recommendations put forward including this one.

“This recommendation of working towards recognizing the right of kids like Devon to be able to go home to their First Nation. Devon had never visited Georgina Island and we heard through many experts who testified at this inquest around the critical nature of being able to put your own feet on your own land. That recommendation calls on all parties to work together toward recognizing that right.”

The jury is currently in deliberations.

Lastly, a Conservative MP told N2N he hopes under new leadership the party will be able to clear up any misconceptions Indigenous people may have about the party.

“I believe there’s kind of a perception, I would call it, that I don’t believe is a reality out that we don’t care about these issues and we do,” said Gary Vidal (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River). 

Last month the Conservatives selected Pierre Poilievre as their new leader.

Vidal said the party needs to do a better job of showing Canadians they do have a heart and that they can do this through better grassroots communication.

He also said the Conservatives will continue to challenge the government on Bill C-29, the legislation that will establish a new National Council on Reconciliation.

The council is supposed to monitor the government’s progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

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