WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Ontario Provincial Police investigators have interviewed a residential school survivor over an alleged rape he says he suffered as a child while attending one of the country’s most notorious institutions.
Three OPP officers flew into Fort Albany First Nation, which sits near the western coast of James Bay in northern Ontario, to interview Simeon Solomon on Tuesday. The 63-year-old has been pushing for a criminal probe into the sexual assault he says occurred when he was 12 and attending St. Anne’s residential school.
Solomon said a female officer conducted the three-hour interview, which was recorded with video at the local Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service detachment. He said the officer told him it may take two to three weeks before the OPP decides whether to proceed with an investigation and possible charges.
“I am still hanging — my story is still hanging there,” said Solomon. “It is going to be another wait again, whether or not the criminal charges will stick.”
Solomon was one of 700 survivors interviewed by the OPP in the 1990s who described suffering assaults, sexual assaults and a multitude of abuses at St. Anne’s from 1941 to 1972.
The Catholic Church-run institution was in operation from 1902 until 1976, taking students from Fort Albany First Nation and nearby areas. The federal government began funding the institution in 1906.
Solomon attended St. Anne’s from 1966 to 1973.
Solomon says he was raped by one the institution’s male staff members during the 1971-1972 school year.
“There’s a burden in my life that something is missing. I cannot move forward because of this sexual assault,” Solomon said in an interview with CBC News.
“A white person took my identity.”
CBC News is not naming the alleged perpetrator because he has not been criminally charged.
Separate allegations led to charge in 1990s
Solomon never mentioned the alleged aggravated sexual assault during his OPP interview in the 1990s, during the provincial police force’s investigation into historical abuse at St. Anne’s.
He did describe a separate event that occurred in the shower of the institution, according to a transcript of his statement, obtained by CBC News.
- Do you know of a child who never came home from residential school? Or someone who worked at one? We would like to hear from you. Email our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at WhereAreThey@cbc.ca or call toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.
That allegation led to a charge of indecent assault against a former staff member named Claude Chénier. The charge was withdrawn in 1998 after Solomon missed a court date to appear as a witness. Chénier has never been convicted of any crime.
But Solomon has long said that he was a victim of other offences while at the school.
The first time Solomon mentioned the alleged rape in a judicial setting came in 2002 during testimony in a civil case launched by St. Anne’s survivors against the federal government and the Catholic orders that ran and staffed the school — the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Sisters of the Cross.
During an examination for discovery, Solomon alleged he had his virginity taken away from him by a male St. Anne’s staff member.
“That’s rape. When you take something that’s precious to the individual,” said Solomon, according to the transcript. “I thought I was the bad person.… I was scared.”
The OPP reached out to Solomon to set up this week’s interview after CBC News contacted the force to inquire about his allegations.
“We are reviewing the information we have on file and will contact Mr. Solomon to discuss his concerns, including any new allegations of victimization,” OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson wrote in a July 23 email to CBC News.
Solomon and his Toronto-based lawyer Bruce Boyden have spent several years trying to convince authorities to open a criminal investigation into the sexual assault, as well as a separate alleged physical assault where a staff member allegedly smashed Solomon’s head into a wall.
“We were hoping that the Crown Attorney would take this and that the OPP would reinvigorate it,” said Boyden. “That hasn’t been the case.”
Frustrated by the lack of movement, Solomon and Boyden travelled to Ottawa in early July seeking to launch a private prosecution, a process under which a complainant can file an allegation of wrongdoing in writing and under oath before a justice of the peace. The matter then goes to a special hearing.
If successful, a judge or justice of the peace would then issue a summons or warrant to the alleged perpetrator to appear in court on the charge.
Solomon’s spirits were high on the morning of July 12 as he prepared to enter the Ottawa courthouse.
“Right now, I am kind of trembling,” he told CBC News. “My heart is pumping.”
But a little over an hour later, his hopes were dashed. Solomon and Boyden were informed that private prosecutions had been suspended in Ontario under COVID-19 measures.
Solomon was devastated. Sitting hunched on a bench in a park next to the courthouse, he said he felt like he had hit rock bottom.
“I feel like giving up,” Solomon said. “Thinking those suicidal thoughts.”
Solomon described it as like being plunged back into that dark place from 1998, when he missed his morning flight from Fort Albany to Moosonee, Ont., to testify in the trial against Chénier.
Solomon said he overslept after working well past midnight. He scrambled to try and charter a bush plane, but fog had rolled in, preventing takeoff, said Solomon.
As part of the OPP investigation into St. Anne’s in the 1990s, police identified 74 people as suspects and seven were charged and five were convicted.
During that time, the OPP was also told by survivors about a homemade electric chair used to shock children as entertainment and punishment. No charges were ever laid in connection with the use of contraption.
All that remains of the school in Fort Albany today is a small, time-worn shack. The main building, nuns’ residence and rectory all burned down in separate fires over the past 15 years.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.