The federal government says it will allow an Indigenous woman who was abused at a residential school to donate documents related to her case to the centre that is preserving the painful legacy of the institutions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government will waive the privilege it asserts over the records pertaining to the lawsuit launched by Angela Shisheesh for the hardships she endured at the infamous St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., where former students say they were forced to eat their own vomit and tortured in a makeshift electric chair.
"We must never allow this dark and painful chapter of our history to be forgotten," Mr. Trudeau told the daily Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday – the same day that a story about Ms. Shisheesh's quest to donate her documents to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg appeared in The Globe and Mail.
"We're encouraging all survivors to share their stories and documents with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation," the Prime Minister said. "Where an individual requests it, our government is willing to absolutely waive privilege and encourages all other entities to do the same. We remain committed to bringing closure to this system."
Ms. Shisheesh, 72, was the lead plaintiff in a suit involving 156 former students who were physically or sexually abused at St. Anne's. That ended in a financial settlement in 2004 – two years before the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) was signed to compensate survivors of the schools.
She was surprised to learn this year that documents related to her case had not been filed with the centre, so she asked the Ontario Superior Court to instruct the government to hand them over and do the same for all the other cases launched before the IRSSA was signed.
Justice Department lawyers said in court documents filed in late November that Ms. Shisheesh was entitled to give the centre her examination for discovery – her pretrial oral testimony, taken under oath, which she recently acquired from a previous lawyer – but only after she obtained a waiver of privilege from both the government and the Catholic Church, which ran the school.
The church did not reply to questions on Wednesday about whether it, too, would be willing to waive privilege.
Justice Department lawyers appeared before the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto on Wednesday to ask a judge to dismiss the cases launched by Ms. Shisheesh and another former St. Anne's student, identified only as C-14114. Both women want the government to admit it was aware of abuse at the school to make it easier for former students to claim compensation.
The claim for compensation made by C-14114 was denied in October, 2014, after the government failed to disclose documents that could have supported her story of abuse. She has been told that she can have her case reheard. But her lawyer, Fay Brunning, says in a statement of facts that the government has still failed to produce police reports and source documents related to her reopened claim.
The government has argued that the court ruled last April that the production of similar documents was not required in another case because they contain confidential and privileged examinations for discovery of St. Anne's survivors. To express the government's irritation with Ms. Brunning's new attempt to obtain documents, the Justice Department lawyers are asking the court to require her to cover the costs of the case it is now hearing.
"This issue has already been decided by the courts a number of times," said Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, in a statement on Wednesday. "If the court agrees with the government on costs – we fully expect the counsel to personally bear that cost and not pass it along to clients."