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Residential school survivors say feds withholding documents

Justice Department lawyers ‘are acting as if they are above law,’ Alvin Fiddler, Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, says about the fact that the federal government has yet to comply with a judge’s order to produce court documents.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

First Nations people who are seeking compensation for abuses they suffered at one of the country's most notorious residential schools say the federal government has not complied with a judge's order to hand over documents that prove they were traumatized by being forced to eat their own vomit.

Lawyers representing students who attended St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., will be back in court on Tuesday to ask that the government produce transcripts of the trial of Anna Wesley, a former school supervisor who was convicted in 1999 on three counts of administering a noxious substance.

Lawyers for the survivors say in documents filed with the court that "it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Anna Wesley had forced the victims, when they were small children at St. Anne's, to eat their own vomit by assaulting them."

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St. Anne's, which took in First Nations children until the 1970s, is the school where children as young as 6 were tortured in a makeshift electric chair.

In January of this year, Justice Paul Perell of the Ontario Superior Court said the federal government must provide the former students with thousands of Ontario Provincial Police documents created during a multiyear investigation into physical and sexual abuses at the school.

Those documents could bolster the cases for compensation the survivors are making as part of the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) – the out-of-court method for settling claims of sexual and serious physical abuse.

But the survivors' lawyers say that, despite the strong wording of Justice Perell's order, the transcripts of the Wesley trial have not been provided to their clients. And, when the lawyers asked at IAP hearings for the documents to be produced, "the federal government then also objected to admissibility of the transcripts."

Justice Perell gave the government until the end of June to hand over the documents. But the hearings are under way. Until the government complies with the judge's order, lawyers for the victims say, their clients have to make their cases without written proof of their ordeal, and may not get the settlements to which they are entitled.

Included in the documents that the survivors are demanding are the reports of medical experts who described the physical and psychological harms suffered by the children who Ms. Wesley forced to eat their own vomit.

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in an e-mail that the government takes its obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement seriously.

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"Allegations such as these ones are very troubling, and one of the reasons why the IAP process was set up," she said. "To date, Canada has met all deadlines set out in Justice Perell's order, which were agreed to by all parties, and we will continue to strive to meet those deadlines."

Alvin Fiddler, the Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which includes the communities that former students are from, said the Justice Department lawyers "are acting as if they are above law."

The survivors thought Justice Perell's ruling meant "a long and difficult road was coming to an end," Mr. Fiddler said, "but it seems now that it's ongoing."

MP Charlie Angus, who represents the region that includes St. Anne's, has written to Mayo Moran, the chair of the oversight committee of the IAP, to say the defiance of federal officials in the face of a court order calls the validity of the assessment process into question.

"The IAP people in authority must be seen holding the Department of Justice lawyers to account," Mr. Angus said. "Anything less would be a perpetration of the abuse of rights that these survivors have suffered since agreeing to participate in a process that was supposed to be non-adversarial."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More


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