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Decades after the doors closed for good on Canada's last residential school, explosive allegations about mass graves continue to surface.

But police - and the former United Church minister who has made some of the allegations - admit they haven't found anything to back them up.

"The evidence was coming out anecdotally from people's stories," Kevin Annett, the former minister who has criss-crossed the country with his own "truth commission" on residential schools, said in an interview this week.

Historians and researchers say there are well-documented records of many children dying from tuberculosis.

But as mass graves - or murder - they say there has been no evidence found, though thousands of pages of documents have yet to be combed through. Even then, records from the schools are spotty.

Paul Schratz, a Catholic Church spokesman, noted the churches have long admitted horrible things happened at the schools, but some of the claims are over the top, he said.

"There's no substance to them and for some reason they're coming up again."

Church officials have encouraged Mr. Annett to go to the authorities with the allegations, Mr. Schratz added. "We and other churches have said that if he has any evidence, we encourage him to bring it to the police."

Mr. Annett led about two dozen protesters to Holy Rosary Cathedral in downtown Vancouver on Easter Sunday to serve the church with an eviction notice.

His group, Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared, did the same thing a week earlier and they have made similar demands in Toronto.

Mr. Annett said the protests are to draw attention to the plight of children who were forced into both Catholic and Protestant residential schools.

At the Easter Sunday protest, he said it was time the "Catholic Church pulled their head out of the sand and responded to the victims and the things people are asking for ... a return of the children who died, their remains and an identification of who's responsible."

He said native people have told him about "several" mass graves, including ones near former residential schools in Mission, Port Alberni and Alert Bay, B.C.

Mr. Annett said the children who are buried in the graves died from TB and maltreatment, including beatings.

"I don't believe generally that these allegations of mass graves were taken to police because the kids were so terrorized.

"I think that's why we are limited right now to a lot of anecdotal stuff and we need to see the documents and the final step is forensic proof."

During the weekend protest outside the cathedral, another member of the group, Rick Lavallee, told reporters his younger brother had been killed while a student at a Catholic-run residential school in Portage la Prairie.

Mr. Lavallee has said a lay employee of the school beat the five-year-old with a cattle prod. But this week, he said his brother was three when he died, not five, and he can't remember the year of his death. He said his grandfather told him the story.

Rosalind Merrick, a former residential school pupil and current board member of the Indian Residential School Museum of Canada in Portage la Prairie, said the school was started not by the Catholic Church but by a group of concerned women who operated it initially under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. It was operated later by the United Church, she said.

She has documentation of all deaths at the school, including one child who died in a hit-and-run accident and another killed in a farming mishap. She doesn't recall the Lavallees.

RCMP spokesman Staff Sergeant John Ward said there have been investigations.

"We have done extensive investigations over the years into the allegations of mass graves and to this day we've never been able to substantiate any of that," he said.

In the late 1990s, the RCMP in B.C. began probing allegations of abuse made by former residential students. Staff Sgt. Ward said that as many as 15 people were charged in the investigation and some are still in the court system.

There is solid evidence, however, to back Mr. Annett's assertion that a huge number of native children died of TB during the residential school years. John Milloy, a professor of Canadian studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., has written a book on the schools and was a senior researcher for the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

His book recounts the experience of Peter Bryce, the Indian Affairs chief medical officer in the early 1900s. Dr. Bryce found that between 24 per cent and 42 per cent of the students died from TB over a 14-year period.

Dr. Bryce and others said it was a deliberate practice to keep the sick and healthy together, Prof. Milloy said.

But records of deaths from TB and other causes from the middle of the 20th century on are not as clear about death rates, the professor added.

A senior Indian Affairs Department official of the day, Duncan Campbell Scott, wrote in 1914 that as many as 50 per cent of the children who attended residential schools could have died from TB or other diseases.

But as to the precise number of deaths from TB, "nobody knows," said Prof. Milloy, who quickly discounted Mr. Annett's assertion that 50,000 children died.

There are records of deaths in schools but "nobody has gone through the 750 metres of paper that include the churches, the department and any other federal agency as well as all provincial files," Prof. Milloy said. "Nobody even knows how many kids went to school."

Asked how many died of foul play, he said: "God only knows. I know enough to know there are no records of 50,000 children dead in the school files."

Mr. Annett said he arrived at the 50,000 figure by estimating five deaths a year at the more than 100 residential schools over 100 years. "I don't think that's unrealistic."

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