Court report says Ottawa needs to review 11 St. Anne’s residential school cases 

December 10, 2021
Court report says Ottawa needs to review 11 St. Anne's residential school cases 

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

At least 11 abuse compensation cases from a notorious residential school need review because their outcome may have been impacted by the federal government’s failure to disclose thousands of police and court records, according to a court-ordered report.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, one of nine judges across the country assigned to oversee the residential school settlement agreement, released the report Thursday. 

The report concluded that Ottawa’s failure to disclose the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and court records for the first seven years of the residential school compensation process would likely not have changed the majority of outcomes in the 427 St. Anne’s Residential School compensation cases it reviewed.

However, the federal government should review a batch of 11 cases, all involving allegations of student-on-student abuse, said the report by retired Justice Ian Pitfield, who was appointed by Perell to conduct the review.  

On Friday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller’s office said in an emailed statement to CBC News it would review the 11 cases. 

“Canada will respect and abide by the recommendations of the Independent Special Advisor,” said the statement. 

The records may have helped these cases reach the higher threshold for compensation, which required survivors to prove officials knew or ought to have known this type of abuse occurred in the institutions, the report said.

“There is little or nothing to indicate that Canada reviewed any record of witness or alleged perpetrator interviews undertaken by the OPP, or completed examinations for discovery in civil proceedings,” said the report. 

“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.”

Perell ordered the report translated into Cree and French. He also requested a hearing to discuss the report’s findings and any future steps.

OPP probe, court cases removed from record

Student-on-student abuse claims were the most difficult to prove under the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), which was created to award compensation under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. 

Often it required survivors to show there was a pattern of abuse and neglect at an institution. The longer a survivor waited to file for compensation for student-on-student abuse, the more likely previous testimony in other cases would help bolster their case. 

The police records would have established abuse ran rampant through the Catholic Church-run St. Anne’s, which sat in the Fort Albany First Nation, along Ontario’s James Bay Coast, and closed in 1976.

Evelyn Korkmaz attended St. Anne’s Indian Residential School between 1969 and 1972. (Submitted by Evelyn Korkmaz; Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

The OPP records, which stemmed from an investigation in the 1990s and were previously obtained by CBC News, include interviews with over 700 individuals. The investigation led to charges against seven individuals, and five were convicted.

Perell ordered the review on a request from the federal government, which said it was needed because public criticisms of Ottawa’s failure to disclose the files undermined faith in the residential school compensation process. 

The former Conservative federal government removed references to the OPP investigation and related convictions from the St. Anne’s school narrative — a document that summarizes the history of residential school — for the first seven years of the compensation process, which began in 2007 and ended this past March. 

The OPP and trial records were finally ordered released by Perell in 2014 and 2015. 

Years of litigation followed as St. Anne’s survivors argued all cases heard before the files’ release needed to be reopened.

The Liberal government spent millions of dollars continuing the fight with survivors in court. 

‘A smoke-screen’

Pitfield’s report ultimately concluded that the OPP files would not have changed the outcome of most of the 427 cases reviewed in the report, which cross-referenced claimant names with the police records.

“I am just so disappointed, exhausted,” said Evelyn Korkmaz, a St. Anne’s survivor, who was sexually assaulted by other students at St. Anne’s. Her claim was rejected in 2012, because she wasn’t believed. 

“We are hitting brick wall after brick wall after brick wall.”

Korkmaz fought the rejection and eventually won her claim within the IAP process. She still wants her claim reopened with the OPP records in hand.

Fay Brunning has represented St. Anne’s survivors for years and successfully argued for the release of Ontario Provincial Police records. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

“It’s a smoke-screen,” said Fay Brunning, an Ottawa lawyer who successfully argued for the release of the documents in 2014 and 2015. 

“None of the St. Anne’s claimants were represented for his or her claim in this review,” 

Brunning has a case before the Court of Appeal for Ontario challenging the review.  

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose federal riding includes Fort Albany First Nation, says Miller needs to sit down with St. Anne’s survivors to map out a final resolution.

“They want this thing shut down and Canada to carry on and say, ‘Reconciliation is a fact.’ Well, it’s not a fact, not for St. Anne’s survivors,” said Angus.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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