OTTAWA — NDP MP Charlie Angus criticized the federal government on Monday for delaying the release of documents needed to help a St. Anne's Residential School survivor prove that she experienced sexual abuse from another student at the infamous institution.
Stella Chapman, a former student of the school, wrote to Angus last week asking for help with an upcoming hearing to re-open her case for compensation. She reached out after the government did not fulfill her request to provide her the supporting documents.
"It just shows how far survivors have to go to get the basic principles of justice approved," Angus told reporters in the National Press Theatre.
"This isn't reconciliation, this is injustice," he said.
Angus has been trying to get access to documents about St. Anne's for years.
"What is it about St. Anne's residential school that the Justice department has taken such a brass-knuckles approach to undermining their legal obligations, suppressing evidence and defying the information commissioner?" he asked in November. What is it they are trying to protect?"
A copy of a letter Angus wrote to Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett on Friday said Chapman may have to file a motion of contempt against that department and the attorney general.
Chapman's case was deemed ineligible for compensation in October 2013 because of lack of evidence to verify her claims. At the time, her lawyers were unaware 12,000 documents corroborating reports of abuse at the school were being withheld from release.
This isn't reconciliation, this is injustice.NDP MP Charlie Angus
After receipt of Angus' letter, the federal government agreed to settle Chapman's case.
The NDP MP called the letter and ensuing response an example of "extraordinary intervention" for a humane resolution.
"This tactic of going after the legal teams of survivors is unprecedented and represents a deliberate chill to deny survivors access to the justice system," he said.
Angus sat alongside leaders from Treaty 9 and three survivors of the church-run Fort Albany, Ont. school, where kids were put in a homemade electric chair as punishment.
At some point during the emotional press conference, a box of tissues appeared on the table.
Under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, those who suffered student-on-student abuse are eligible for compensation if they can prove the abuse took place on school premises; and if supervisors were aware. All claims are resolved by an Independent Assessment Process (IAP).
More than 150,000 Indigenous children were placed in residential schools across the country between 1883 and 1996.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, over 6,000 students died inside the notorious system. A majority of the institutions were run by the Catholic Church.
Sabrina Williams, spokeswoman for Bennett's office, issued a statement to HuffPost Canada, criticizing the previous government for its "overly narrow" approach to complying with the IAP. A judge previously described the process as inherently "adverserial."
"We must never allow this dark and painful chapter in our history to be forgotten," Bennett's office said in an email.
The statement goes on to say the government "has not—and will not—protect the names of anyone convicted of crimes in relation to what happened at Indian Residential Schools."
Watch: The Painful History of Residential Schools
Bennett's office denied withholding court-ordered documents to delay individual cases of survivors seeking compensation for abuse experienced at residential schools.
"This government is fully complying with the direction the courts have provided and are completely respecting the agreement and process that was negotiated by all sides," the statement said.
"Further to that, Canada has formally waived its privilege over documents survivors wish to provide to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and we encourage the Catholic Church and others to do the same."
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum urged the federal government to stop "suppressing and intimidating the voices and the stories that are the truth of this country."
She said it's time for the federal government to acknowledge that horrific crimes were committed against innocent Indigenous children in those schools.
"They must come and meet with the survivors in a very respectful manner. That needs to be done," she said. "Until that time, reconciliation does not exist."