APTN National News
An NDP MP says he’s received the brush-off from the body responsible for settling claims from Indian residential school survivors after asking when it knew federal government lawyers were supressing information about brutal abuses at a school in Fort Albany, Ont.
Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, wrote to Daniel Shapiro, the head of the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat, last month saying the body needed to come clean about what it knew and when to protect the integrity of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
Shapiro wrote back saying Angus should take up his issue with Justice Minister Peter MacKay or Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
“As it appears that fundamentally your concerns continue to relate to the conduct of Canada and its representatives, I ask that you direct your further communications in this regard to (MacKay) and/or (Valcourt),” wrote Shapiro, in his Dec. 3 letter to Angus. “As an officer of the court, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further in the political realm on matters that may be before the courts in the future.”
Angus said he was disappointed by Shapiro’s response.
“It’s pretty depressing when there obviously has been a failure of the legal process and the people in charge of the legal process say it’s a political process,” said Angus. “If (Independent Assessment Process) is not going to stand and insist that the defendant meet the basic legal obligations as laid out by the Ontario Superior Court then this process is a betrayal of the promise that was made to the survivors that justice would be done.”
This past January an Ontario Superior Court of Justice judge ordered the federal government to hand over thousands of documents from an OPP investigation into abuse, including the use of an electric chair on students, at St. Anne’s Residential School. The investigation, from the 1990s, led to convictions.
St. Anne’s school survivors went to court a second time in June to force Ottawa to turn over the transcript of St. Anne’s employee Anna Wesley’s trial. Wesley was convicted in 1999 for giving students a noxious substance.
Justice Canada lawyers had been sitting on the documents, claiming it didn’t have the authority to hand them over because the OPP transferred them on condition of anonymity.
Justice Paul Perell found that Ottawa’s refusal to hand over the documents “compromised the (independent assessment process) and denied the claimant’s access to justice.”
As part of the residential school settlement agreement, an independent assessment process (IAP) was created to deal with claims of abuse and compensation. The hearings are held before an independent adjudicator who hears presentations from claimants, church and federal government representatives. Documents are also used to support claims for compensation.
Many of the survivors from St. Anne’s school went into their hearings without any legal representation and did not know evidence existed to prove their claims of abuse.
Despite the court victories, Angus said the St. Anne’s survivors are still facing obstacles and are planning to again take the issue to the courts.
“We are still seeing documents being blacked-out, (Ottawa officials) lied in court about the evidence narrative,” said Angus. “(Ottawa) was told they breached the legal rights of the survivors and they continue to act defiantly.”
Angus said he now plans to take the issue to the IAP oversight committee.