By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The body responsible for settling claims from Indian residential school survivors needs to come clean about when it knew federal government lawyers were supressing information about brutal abuse at a school in Fort Albany, Ont., says an NDP MP.
Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, said the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat needs to come clean about what it knew and when to protect the integrity of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
“My question to the (secretariat) is when did you learn the evidence being brought into the hearing was lies? When did (the secretariat) learn that evidence was being supressed and did you do anything at that point to defend the interest of the people of St. Anne’s?” said Angus. “Those adjudicators, I believe, have to explain themselves. This was a massive failure of the residential school settlement agreement and it is a failure to Canadians.”
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. During the hearings, federal officials “openly questioned their testimony,” said Angus, in a letter to Dan Shapiro, chief adjudicator with the secretariat.
“The Justice Department, on the other hand had access to un-redacted police evidence that put them in a position to know the names of all the perpetrators, know who the witnesses were and know who would likely be coming forward to make claims against the government,” wrote Angus, in his Nov. 17, letter to Shapiro.
A spokesperson for the secretariat said Shapiro only received Angus’ letter Tuesday afternoon.
“He will review it and respond directly to Mr. Angus,” said spokesperson Michael Tansey.
It’s unlikely Angus will get much of a response, if an earlier letter written by Shapiro offers any indication. In the Sept. 17 letter to Angus, Shapiro said he had no power to censure Justice Canada’s lawyers or re-examine any settled residential school claims. He said only the courts can re-open claims.
“I regret that I cannot comment further on matters that are before the independent adjudicators and may, in the future, be before the courts,” said Shapiro.
Dan Shapiro letter
Angus said the secretariat failed the survivors from St. Anne’s.
“I want to see someone from the (secretariat) say yes, we were aware of it, we’re sorry or something went wrong and we are going to fix it,” said Angus.
He also worries the St. Anne’s case may point to wider, systemic problems with the way abuse claims are settled.
“If it is a systemic problem, then the overall apology that was made to the survivors has been damaged and the overall process that Canadians put faith in has been damaged,” said Angus.
As of January 1, 2014, over 17,000 IAP claims totalling over $2 billion had been resolved, with about nine per cent of the claimants receiving no money award.