Winnipeg MP calling for criminal charges against those involved with residential schools

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg Liberal MP is calling for criminal charges against the people involved in operating residential schools.

Dan Vandal, who is the Minister of Northern Affairs, said on CTV’s Question Period Sunday that justice needs to be done.

“This obviously was a crime scene. Those poor children, those poor families, how did they die? Did they suffer? I mean those are all unknown,” said Vandal.

“If people are still alive, then we need to do all things necessary to achieve justice, of course, we need to bring charges forward.”

Kjel Anderson, an associate professor of law at the University of Manitoba, said there is no statute of limitations for crime, including for one that may have occurred at the schools, like negligence and abuse.

But he said bringing forward criminal charges would be difficult.

“I think it’s somewhat unlikely. I mean I wouldn’t rule it out,” said Anderson.

Anderson noted some documented evidence could be lost and potential witnesses and suspects in some cases have long since died.

“I think the challenge comes in connecting that to individuals and specific instances that happened. In some cases these crimes would have happened a while back.”

Religious groups connected to former residential school sites in Kamloops and Marieval have agreed to release all of their historical documents, but privacy laws could be a roadblock when it comes to personnel records.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked on Friday if the Liberal government would launch an independent investigation to determine if crimes were committed at the schools.

“We are there to be a partner in whatever is needed to find the full truth and ensure reconciliation is possible,” said Trudeau.

On top of calls for criminal charges against individuals, there is also a movement to criminally charge the federal government and the churches.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada said criminal code allows this in cases where the institutions have failed to provide the necessities of life.

“We know thousands testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you know over 2,000 testified at the MMIWG (Missing and Murderer Indigenous Women and Girls) inquiry. So there’s lots of witnesses still living,” said Steven Pink, who is the lawyer for the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Pink said if this were to happen it would be a first and there is no precedent for this.

He added punishments could consist of fines or restitution, but he doesn’t think a fine would be a likely remedy against the government as it would simply be paying itself.

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