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David Barnard, president of the University of Manitoba, delivers a public apology for the university's role in perpetuating the damage caused by Canada's native residential schools as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission holds its third round of national hearings in Halifax on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. The commission has a five-year mandate to document the history of residential schools, inspire reconciliation and produce a report by 2014.Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

RCMP officers usually weren't aware of the need to investigate abuse in Canada's infamous native residential school system because aboriginal families were reluctant to tell them what was occurring behind closed doors, says a report by the police force.

Deputy Commissioner Steve Graham presented the research report on Saturday to the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was holding its final day of Atlantic region hearings in Halifax.

The 457-page report written by Marcel Eugene-LeBeuf said the police acted on behalf of the federal government to track down children who had run away from the schools and to tell parents they had to send their children to the schools.

However, the researchers said that police generally weren't aware of abuse, which is defined in the report as "improper physical or sexual behaviour and actions that contributed to the loss of cultural roots."

"Children would rarely denounce the abuse they suffered, and the school system prevented outsiders from knowing about the abuse that occurred. Discipline was kept strictly internal to the school system and was not associated to the police," the authors said in the report's summary.

"The report shows that Indian residential schools were essentially a closed system between the Department of Indian Affairs, the churches and school administrator. The problems within the schools did not attract police attention or intervention because they were mostly dealt with internally or were unknown to the police."

The report covers more than 100 years and represents the first complete assessment of the RCMP's involvement in the Indian Residential School system.

Government-funded, church-run residential schools operated from the 1870s until the final closure of a school outside Regina in 1996.

The researchers conducted 279 interviews and travelled to 66 communities between 2007 and 2009 to examine the police role in supporting the system.

After Mr. Graham completed his brief presentation to the commission, he gently placed the study into the bentwood box, where expressions of reconciliation are placed by those participating in the panels.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has a five-year mandate to document the history of residential schools, inspire reconciliation and produce a report by 2014.

The report said a lack of trust of the police by natives was the biggest barrier to investigations being carried out up until the 1990s.

"Without public or police knowledge of wrong-doing, there would be no investigation and no charges laid against abusers. This is supported by the relatively small number of files in RCMP records on these matters for the period covered by the research project," said the report.

The appendices of the report summarizes 60 investigations between 1957 and 2005 from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, the three territories and Manitoba.

It says there were 619 victims who appeared before the courts and over 40 perpetrators identified with charges being laid for crimes ranging from indecent assault to sexual interference and assault causing bodily harm.

In May 2004, then RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli publicly apologized to Canada's Aboriginal Peoples.

"To those of you who suffered tragedies at residential schools, we are very sorry for your experience," he said at the time.