Lawyers for the survivors of one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools say an order of nuns who taught at the institution is trying to stop them from obtaining police documents that could support their claims for federal compensation.
The lawyers, who represent about 60 former students of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., are scheduled to appear in a Toronto courtroom Tuesday to ask whether the federal government is obligated to hand over thousands of documents created by the Ontario Provincial Police during a five-year investigation into abuses at the school that was conducted in the 1990s.
That investigation resulted in the conviction of five former employees, including Anna Wesley and Jane Kakeychewan, both former members of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa. The nuns were found guilty of assaulting children but served no time in jail.
The former students want the OPP documents to bolster their case for compensation under the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), an out-of-court method for resolving claims of sexual and serious physical abuse at the schools. Late last week, they were told the nuns will try to stop the case from proceeding.
“I can confirm to you that there was a request made on Friday afternoon at 5 o’clock for an adjournment by the Sisters of Charity,” said Fay Brunning, a lawyer for the former students. “We are not agreeing to an adjournment.”
Ms. Brunning said the request for adjournment is puzzling because the survivors of St. Anne’s are not seeking any more money.
A lawyer for the nuns did not return calls Monday.
Alvin Fiddler, the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which includes Fort Albany and other First Nations whose children were sent to St. Anne’s, said he hoped the religious order will back down. “I hope that, by now, they understand what this means to the former students,” Mr. Fiddler said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “This would just further deny them the justice they are seeking.”
Charlie Angus, the New Democrat MP who represents the area, said the only possible reason for attempting to get the case adjourned is to prevent the release of information contained in the police records. “I would say to those nuns they can’t turn back the clock on what went wrong, but they certainly have the responsibility now to do the right thing,” Mr. Angus said.
The former students of St. Anne’s, where children were subjected to abuse, including sexual assault and torture in a homemade electric chair, say the federal government is deliberately withholding the documents that would prove their tales of torment.
Under the terms of the Independent Assessment Process, Ottawa is required to search for and report any information about former employees of the schools who are named in survivors’ claims. In the case of St. Anne’s, the government did not share the OPP documents or acknowledge it had its own copies. Instead, federal officials told the IAP panel there were “no known incidents found in documents regarding sexual abuse at Fort Albany IRS.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a letter last July to Mr. Angus that federal officials are not obligated to “seek out the investigative files of police forces.” The government argues that the documents contain private information that was given without intent or approval for its use or release.
Mr. Valcourt said in that letter that the files belong to the OPP which is bound by the provisions of its privacy legislation. But the Ontario Privacy Commission said Monday in a letter to Mr. Fiddler that the province’s privacy laws do not prevent the release of the copies that are in federal hands.