Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear appeal of blow to residential school survivors | Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an appeal by a group of residential school survivors, dealing a blow to their decade-long fight with the federal government over thousands of unpublished documents.

Survivors of St Anne’s Indian Residential School hoped the nation’s highest court would take up their case, which alleges Canada’s federal government withheld key evidence in determining compensation for victims of abuse at the northern school of Ontario.

The court did not say why it refused to hear the case, as is common practice.

But the decision was strongly criticized and disbelieved by prominent indigenous voices.

“There are no words to say how awful this is, how justice is continually being denied to survivors of St Anne’s Indian Residential School, their families,” tweeted writer Tanya Talaga. “Canada should have done the right thing when it all started. Distribute OPP records and reports detailing abuse. How difficult is it? »

Pam Palmater, a law professor, called the decision “disgusting”, writing on social media that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet should be “shamed” after fighting the release of the documents.

St Anne’s, which operated from 1902 to 1976 in the community of Fort Albany, was part of a network of religious and public institutions where 150,000 Native children were sent as part of a campaign of forced assimilation.

Canada's residential schools

Over the course of 100 years, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were given new names, forcibly converted to Christianity and prohibited from speaking their native languages. Thousands died of disease, neglect and suicide; many were never returned to their families.

The last residential school closed in 1996.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with others operated by the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Church of Canada, which is today the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

In 2015, a historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission which concluded that the residential school system amounted to a policy of cultural genocide.

Survivor testimony made it clear that sexual, emotional and physical abuse were rife at the schools. And the trauma suffered by students was often passed down to younger generations – a reality magnified by systematic inequities that persist across the country.

Dozens of First Nations do not have access to drinking water, and racism against Indigenous people is rampant within the healthcare system. Indigenous people are overrepresented in federal prisons and Indigenous women are killed at a rate far higher than other groups.

The commissioners identified 20 unmarked gravesites at former residential schools, but they also warned that more unidentified gravesites were yet to be found across the country.

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Residential schools in Canada

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Residential schools in Canada

In 100 years, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were given new names, forcibly converted to Christianity and forbidden to speak their native language. Thousands of people died of disease, neglect and suicide; many were never returned to their families.

The last boarding school closed in 1996.

Almost three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with the rest being run by Presbyterians, Anglicans and the United Church of Canada, which is now the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

In 2015, a landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the residential school system amounted to a policy of cultural genocide.

Testimonies from survivors made it clear that sexual, emotional and physical abuse was rampant in the schools. And the trauma suffered by students has often been passed on to younger generations – a reality amplified by the systematic inequalities that persist across the country.

Dozens of First Nations do not have access to safe drinking water, and racism against Indigenous peoples is endemic within the health care system. Indigenous people are overrepresented in federal prisons and Indigenous women are killed at a much higher rate than other groups.

Commissioners identified 20 unmarked burial sites at former residential schools, but also warned that other unmarked burial sites had yet to be found across the country.

Photo: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan/PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF SASKATCHE

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The school was notorious for widespread abuse, including the use of a homemade electric chair built to punish Indigenous children.

In 2006, following an apology from the federal government regarding widespread abuse and neglect in schools, a framework was announced to determine compensation.

The process began in 2007, and the settlement agreement between survivors and the federal government included a provision that awarded a fixed payment to children who had suffered extreme abuse at residential schools.

But St Anne’s survivors say the federal government breached its obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement after withholding documents that could have affected compensation.

Under the agreement, the federal government was obligated to turn over documents that would help adjudicate claims of abuse and determine fair compensation.

But the government withheld thousands of relevant documents, as part of an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at school in the 1990s.

As a result of the investigation, four former school staff members, as well as an Indian Affairs employee, were charged.

The judge overseeing the settlement said the omission was a “mistake” and appeared unintentional. But some school survivors say they lost compensation cases – or received lower payments – because of doubts about the abuse they suffered.

A subsequent investigation into the missing documents concluded that the federal government should reconsider 11 abuse cases. The federal government has said it will reopen specific cases.

Prior to the highest court’s decision, the Liberal government had urged the Supreme Court, through court documents, not to intervene in the case.

Charlie Angus, a lawmaker representing the area where the school operated, criticized the court’s decision.

“The Ministry of Justice suppressed evidence of crimes at St Annes. Government lawyers attacked the survivors in private hearings. The Liberals have spent millions to perpetuate this injustice.

Now the Supreme Court system trusts the government,” he tweeted. “There is no reconciliation”

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