Supreme Court to decide on hearing from Ontario residential school survivors

The Supreme Court of Canada will announce today whether it plans to hear a case of residential school survivors who have fought a years-long battle against Ottawa to release thousands of records.

The group of survivors from St. Anne’s residential school in northern Ontario is looking to the country’s highest court after spending the last decade fighting the federal government to hand over documents.

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The survivors say that the government is in breach of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement because it withheld documentation of abuse when deciding upon their compensation.

The 2006 agreement between the federal government, residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations and churches governed what financial recompense survivors would receive.

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Documentary evidence was supposed to help determine the payments made to those who suffered physical and sexual abuse while being forced to attend the church-run, government-funded institutions.

St. Anne’s operated in Fort Albany First Nation until 1976 and is remembered for horrific stories of abuse.

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Edmund Metatawabin, a survivor and former chief of the First Nation, said that children at the school were sexually abused, punished with shocks delivered by electric chairs and forced to eat their own vomit.

In its fillings, the group of St. Anne’s survivors alleges that “there have been significant procedural and jurisdictional gaps exposed in the administration and enforcement of Canada’s mandatory disclosure obligations” to each claimant under the residential schools settlement agreement.

In 2014, about 60 claimants successfully challenged the federal government for not disclosing the transcripts of criminal trials, investigative reports from the Ontario Provincial Police and civil proceedings about child abuse as part of the compensation process.

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Those pages detail abuses that took place at St. Anne’s and outline “persons of interest” in the investigations, the survivors’ filings say.

The Ontario Superior Court ordered that the 12,300 pages of records be produced in 2014.

But the materials the government provided were heavily redacted, the survivors say, meaning that it was still impossible to determine fair compensation.

“At its core, this case is about the need to provide access to justice for the survivors,” the court brief reads.

“Claimants may have been denied compensation or undercompensated for their individual child abuse claim due to non-disclosure of evidence by Canada.”

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A lawyer for Canada is asking that the leave for appeal to be dismissed. The federal government has maintained that it has met its obligations on document disclosure.

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Noting a breakdown of trust resulting from the case, the federal Liberal government asked courts in spring 2021 to allow an independent review of claims by former St. Anne’s students _ a process that survivors took issue with and appealed.

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The report was ultimately delivered in December and recommended that the federal government review the cases of 11 survivors.

The last appeal by survivors was dismissed by the Ontario Court of Appeal as “moot” in December, since legal arguments were framed around an appeal to the independent review itself and the review had now been delivered.

But “fundamental questions remain unanswered,” the survivors’ group said in its brief, and it is urging the Supreme Court to weigh in.

The court is expected to say whether it will hear the complex, years-long case at 9:45 a.m.

&© 2022 The Canadian Press

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