Ottawa is finally moving almost a year later on a court’s call for a review of 11 cases of student-on-student abuse at one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller says.
The federal government is looking at compensation claims from 11 survivors of the former St. Anne’s Indian Residential School, which was run by the Roman Catholic Church from 1906 until 1976 in Fort Albany First Nation along Ontario’s James Bay Coast.
“There is, for a very limited group of survivors, a potential of re-examination,” Miller told CBC News.
Miller said the government would soon ask the court to appoint another independent official to review the 11 cases and recommend how they should be handled.
Evelyn Korkmaz, who attended St. Anne’s from 1969 to 1972, said Miller should tell claimants whether their claims are among the 11 being reviewed.
“He’s just putting like a piece of cookie out there for us to grab and say, ‘OK, we’re going to be satisfied with that,'” Korkmaz said.
“But there’s more to this. Somebody needs to hold the government accountable for not complying with court orders. What good are court orders if you disregard them?”
The 11 cases initially were identified by an independent, court-appointed official, who examined 427 St. Anne’s cases last year that were heard before the federal government turned over thousands of pages of police and court records to the residential school compensation process in 2014-2015.
For roughly the first seven years of the residential school compensation process, the federal government withheld records from an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) investigation in the 1990s into historical abuse at St. Anne’s.
The court-appointed official released a report in December 2021 concluding that the outcome of the 11 compensation cases, which dealt with student-on-student abuse, could have been affected by the information in those withheld records.
Miller ‘open’ to meeting with St. Anne’s survivors again
The issue flared up in question period on Monday when NDP MP Charlie Angus — whose riding of Timmins–James Bay includes the former St. Anne’s institution — demanded that Miller “look” at him as he pressed for the government to enter into mediation with survivors.
Miller responded by saying he’s asked his department to re-examine the 11 cases.
The Supreme Court of Canada rejected an appeal from St. Anne’s survivors last Thursday in the years-long legal battle over Ottawa withholding thousands of OPP documents containing critical evidence from compensation claim hearings.
WATCH | NDP MP demands Ottawa enter into mediation with St. Anne’s survivors
Miller said the high court’s decision clears the way for the government to complete the review of the 11 outstanding cases.
“The whole compensation process, no matter how you look at it, doesn’t fully replace or compensate people for the immeasurable harm that they suffered,” Miller said.
“While the particular legal recourse has been exhausted, we’ll always be there.”
Miller also said he had a “frank” conversation with some St. Anne’s survivors over Zoom a few months before they filed their leave to appeal with the top court. He said his “door is always open” for a follow-up meeting.
“It really is up to them,” he said.
Edmund Metatawabin, another St. Anne’s survivor, called the review a “first step” toward acknowledging the damage that survivors of this particular abuse endured.
“The young people suffered abuse and, through time, they were taught this behaviour,” Metatawabin said.
“Minister Miller is acknowledging the fact that this has happened in residential school.”
The court-ordered report that recommended the federal government review those 11 case files was released by Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, one of nine judges who oversaw the residential school settlement agreement.
Perell appointed retired justice Ian Pitfield to conduct the review. It concluded that Ottawa’s refusal to release OPP and court documents for the first seven months of the residential school compensation process probably did not change the outcome for most of the 427 survivors.
But Pitfield concluded a review would make a difference for those 11 cases involving allegations of student-on-student abuse.
“There is little or nothing to indicate that on the claims where evidence of knowledge was required to prove a student-on-student assault claim, either the claimant or counsel had attempted to work with Canada to develop admissions,” Pitfield’s 2021 report said.
“I recommend that the claims that were dismissed because of lack of knowledge should be reviewed against any resulting admissions and appropriate awards made where the student-on-student abuse was not subsumed by other more serious claims of sexual abuse.”
Survivors seeking compensation for student-on-student abuse have to show that school officials knew or should have known that abuse was taking place.
The OPP records from that 1990s investigation showed that abuse was rampant at St. Anne’s.
“The government is not transparent,” Korkmaz said.
“We have to hold them accountable.”