Residential Schools Issue Needs to Be Addressed
OTTAWA – POLITICS – James Bay MP Charlie Angus is taking aim at Minister of Justice Peter MacKay. Angus has sent a letter to the Minister of Justice demanding action on the part of the federal government over what he states is an ongoing effort to cover-up issues that happened in residential schools.
MP Angus has written the Minister of Justice a letter on the subject:
Obstruction of Evidence for Claimant Hearings at St. Anne’s Residential School
Dear Minister MacKay,
I am writing you again regarding the legal obligations of the Federal government to comply with the January 14, 2014 court ruling by Ontario Superior Court Justice Perrell. This hearing provided specific instructions to the Federal government regarding its legal duty to provide thousands of pages of transcripts of criminal proceedings, police evidence and any other documentation about abuse to the claimants in the St. Anne’s Residential School hearings. However, rather than comply with the order of the Ontario Superior Court, the Justice Department has turned over heavily redacted documents including blacking out the names of perpetrators and witnesses of these crimes. Such redactions have made these documents effectively useless for adjudicators and the claimants’ legal teams.
It has already been found by Justice Perell that your officials failed in their legal and professional duties to make the Secretariat and adjudicators of the IAP aware that your department had this evidence going back to at least 2003. It has also been established that your officials undermined the legal rights of the claimants by introducing a false evidentiary narrative into the hearings that claimed that there was no documentation of sexual and physical abuse at the school. Providing a false narrative undermined the legal rights of the survivors and damaged the ability of the IAP to ensure fair hearings.
I remind you of the ruling by Justice Perrell that stated: “Canada’s failures to produce the OPP documents about St. Anne’s has compromised the IAP and denied the claimant’s access to justice.”
Further the court ordered: “This court orders that Canada shall by June 30, 2014, produce for the IAP: (c) any other relevant and non-privileged documents in the possession of Canada to comply with the proper reading and interpretation of Canada’s disclosure obligations under Appendix VIII;”
This brings me to the point of this letter. When these documents were originally obtained through Court order in 2003, did the Justice Department receive them in un-redacted form from the Ontario Provincial Police and Ontario courts? If so, on what legal authority are your officials redacting all these documents, even from the Secretariat?
I note that when the Department of Justice applied to obtain these exact documents in 2003, the Federal government lawyer swearing in the affidavit specifically told the Ontario Court that they wanted access to the documents in un-redacted form in order to prepare a defense:
“It appears that the names of the perpetrators have been redacted from the documents. The redacted information is critical information required to defend these actions… It would be unfair to require the Crown Defendant to proceed to trial without production of these documents.”
The Ontario Court under Mr. Justice Trainor in 2003 agreed with the Department of Justice and ordered the documents be fully accessed and copied by the Department of Justice and Catholic Church lawyers. He also ordered that these documents be made available to future plaintiffs. Given that the plaintiffs have not been given full access to these documents, it appears that the Department of Justice’s notion of fairness extends only to the defendants of these crimes (Canadian government officials and Catholic Church personnel), but not to the victims of these crimes (survivors of St. Anne’s).
Many of the St. Anne’s survivors have been self-representing and have had hearings adjudicated where government officials openly questioned their testimony. These claimants did not have access any access to, or knowledge of, the thousands of pages of police evidence that verify the crimes committed against them.
If your department had access to un-redacted police evidence then your officials were in a position to know the names of all the perpetrators, know who the witnesses were and know who would likely be coming forward to make claims against your government. This would have given the defendant an enormous advantage as your officials had a full ten years to prepare the defense against these horrific crimes. Whereas the survivors who have come forward have had no access to such evidence and were told by your officials that such evidence did not exist. Furthermore, I understand that there are hearings taking place now in which your lawyers are refusing to supply the names of witnesses to crimes that are contained in the heavily redacted documents.
I was further surprised to learn that among the heavily redacted documents recently turned over to claimant lawyers are the trial transcripts of defendants Anna Wesley and Johnny Rodrique. On April 30, 2014, your government provided these same trial transcripts to me in un-redacted form as part of an Access to Information request – even though I had made no request to see the court documents.
If these documents were deemed appropriate to be released un-redacted under the Access to Information Act then on what authority did your officials decide to black out the names of witnesses and perpetrators from being utilized by lawyers for the St. Anne’s survivors?
And given the pattern of obstruction utilized against St. Anne’s survivors it must be asked if there are claimants from other schools who have had evidence withheld by the Justice Department?
As Attorney General of Canada you have stated that you are a minister who will defend the rights of victims and yet the survivors of St. Anne’s Residential School have had their rights undermined and interfered with by your department. I remind you that your officials have legal obligations under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. They have fiduciary obligations to people who were victimized under the watch of the Federal government. Further you and your officials have professional obligations under the Law Society.
Put simply, the Federal government cannot choose to place itself about the laws of the land simply because it is the defendant. The duty to disclose is a basic legal obligation in any hearing. If your officials have had access to un-redacted evidence that includes witnesses and corroborating testimony then the behavior of your government begins to look like a prima fascia obstruction of justice against the claimant’s rights to a fair hearing under the IAP.
Given the pattern of obstruction by your officials from 2003 to 2014, I am asking you to look into these issues very carefully. Please ensure that the federal officials handling the remedial documentary disclosure are not simply defending their own past mistakes but are upholding their legal and professional obligations to ensure fair hearings for these people who have already suffered enormously at the hands of the federal government.
The abuse of the rights of the St. Anne’s survivors in the Independent Assessment Process has become a visible symbol of the failure of your government to follow through on the spirit of the historic apology made in 2008. You have a moral and legal obligation to address this breach of basic legal justice.
I look forward to hearing what steps you will take.
MP Timmins-James Bay
cc Edward Mettawabin PKKA
Alvin Fiddler, Deputy Grand Chief Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Leo Friday, Deputy Grand Chief, Mushkegowuk Tribal Council
Murray Sinclair, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Dan Shapiro, Chief Adjudicator, Independent Assessment Process
Mayo Moran, Chair Oversight Committee, Independent Assessment Process
Zeynep Onen, Law Society of Upper Canada