If you want to know why the Conservative government has lost so much goodwill on the residential school apology, look no further than the treatment of the survivors of St. Anne's Residential School.
In the dark annals of the residential schools, St. Anne's stands out as a particularly brutal symbol of torture, shame and abuse. Unfortunately, the Federal government is re-victimizing the survivors by deliberately monkey-wrenching a process that was supposed to finally bring closure.
Just this past week the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) took the extraordinary step of intervening in a court case over the Federal government's attempt to hide thousands of pages of police and court evidence documenting abuse, rape and torture of children over decades at St. Anne's.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Independent Assessment Process (IAP) set up as part of the residential school settlement agreement was supposed to be non-confrontational. Survivors were to be given the chance to appear to tell their individual stories. The adjudicators would then compare these claims with the documented evidence of abuse at a particular institution.
Under the IAP, the Conservative government has a legal obligation to provide an official "narrative" outlining the documented evidence of abuse. In the case of St. Anne's this should have been easy. In the mid 1990s, Ontario Provincial Police undertook a massive investigation of abuse at St. Anne's. It was the largest investigation into child sexual abuse outside of the Mount Cashel inquiry.
By the time it got to court, many of the more notorious perpetrators were dead or could not be located. Nonetheless, the nearly 700 witness statements aided in numerous convictions. Among the more horrific stories was the fact that a homemade electric chair was used to torture children as young as five. According to the police evidence, this use of electric torture was considered a form of entertainment for staff.
The Federal government was well aware of the police and court evidence. But they chose to suppress this information by providing the survivors with a false narrative stating that no documentation of abuse existed.
It was a claim that was patently false. The question is why did they suppress this information? Was is an attempt to limit the extent of their liability by ensuring that corroborating evidence was not available to the adjudicators and the legal teams representing the survivors? Such a move would completely undermine the legitimacy of the process.
Early last July, I wrote to Indian Affairs Minister Valcourt pointing out that in presenting the hearings with a false narrative, his government had interfered with the legal rights of the survivors. Further, such a move had compromised the entire process.
In his response to me, Mr. Valcourt continued to play fast and loose with the facts. He attempted to tell me that police and court evidence was not admissible under the IAP.
Having read the legal terms of the process, it was clear that Mr. Valcourt was either misinformed or attempting to misrepresent something that was easily verifiable.
No doubt, realizing that he was boxed in, Mr. Valcourt agreed to refer the matter to the Ontario Superior Court for an opinion. This hearing on whether the government is obliged to share this evidence is expected to be heard on December 17. With the intervention of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Conservative case has been dealt a serious blow.
The TRC has written to the Ontario Court pointing out that the Federal government does indeed have a legal obligation to turn over both the court records (already in their possession) and obtain the thousands of pages of police testimony (in the hands of the Province).
Even more damning, the TRC has told the Ontario Court that they wrote to the Federal government on May 2, 2012 specifically asking them to turn over all records relating to police investigations and court proceedings relating to abuse of children at residential schools. At the time, the government simply ignored this letter.
For what possible benefit would the Conservative government undermine the work of the TRC? How is it possible that in 2013, the Federal government would prefer to cover up police evidence of sadistic acts that were carried out on mere children?
St. Anne's was a monstrous institution. The horrors perpetuated in that austere building on the Albany River still resonate across my region. I have sat with the families who continue to grieve the loved ones who died there. I have met families who long for closure for little brothers who were lost in the snow as they attempted to find their way home to escape the beatings. And I have met too many people whose families are still scarred from them having been used as sexual toys or punching bags when they were mere children.
The Prime Minister's apology had an incredible impact on these survivors. There were residential school survivors who literally wept for days because they were so overcome at hearing the word sorry. They took this Prime Minister at his word.
It is a sad commentary that their attempts to finally have justice have been so cynically undermined. The survivors of St. Anne's deserve justice. All Canadians have a stake in ensuring that justice is finally done for these innocent victims.