Court hears arguments that many students didn’t receive proper compensation for the abuses they suffered.
Edmund Metatawabin has gotten used to waiting.
“We’re always the last ones when it comes to reconciliation and acknowledgement,” he says with a sigh.
Now Metatawabin and his fellow survivors of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School will have to wait a few more weeks for an important decision in their ongoing abuse compensation case.
Metatawabin, along with a female survivor identified in court only as K-10106 and hundreds of other indigenous children, attended the notorious school in Fort Albany in northeastern Ontario. They say they were victims of horrific treatment including sexual abuse, being shocked by an electrified chair and being forced to eat their own vomit.
Metatawabin and the female survivor are leading a court challenge, arguing that many students didn’t receive proper compensation for the abuses they suffered.
They want the Superior Court to order a full-scale inquiry into why thousands of pages of police records from an investigation in the 1990s detailing the abuse were not disclosed when survivors were seeking compensation under the Indian Residential Schools settlement process beginning in 2006.
The documents were not disclosed until a court order in 2014, which harmed the survivors’ ability to get fair compensation, argued Michael Swinwood, one of the lawyers representing Metatawabin and K-10106.
When K-10106 first applied for compensation, she was denied because the court didn’t believe she had been sexually abused.
What she didn’t know at the time was that the law firm she’d hired had previously represented the Catholic Church — effectively putting it in a conflict of interest, Swinwood told a courtroom packed with other survivors of St. Anne’s.
The firm also knew about the police investigation documents and that they could help her case and others, but failed to disclose them. So did the Canadian justice department, the court heard.
That experience left her traumatized all over again, Swinwood said.
“The appearance here is looking like more abuse and not like reconciliation,” Swinwood told court.
But lawyers for the government argue that Metatawabin and K-10106 lack the standing to press the case, and that the Superior Court doesn’t have the jurisdiction to order an investigation into the withheld documents.
The court only has a “supervisory” role in this case, and cannot act to punish the misdeeds of lawyers, argued Crown lawyer Michael Darcy.
The investigation Metatawabin and his lawyers are seeking “effectively asks the court to become a disciplinary tribunal” which would be “inappropriate,” Darcy said.
Geoffrey Adair, one of the lawyers representing Wallbridge, one of the firms accused of failing to disclose the documents, argued it is not the court’s place to investigate allegations, merely to rule on them.
“That is not its function,” Adair said. “It has never been for 1,000 years.”
Swinwood argued his clients are not asking the court to investigate anything itself, but to choose someone to examine why and how the records went undisclosed.
“The court is asked to appoint someone to investigate this silence, because it is deafening,” Swinwood said.
Superior Court Justice Paul Perell reserved his decision in the case.
Speaking outside the court room, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said the government continuing to fight the survivors in court is an example of its ongoing oppression of indigenous peoples.
“To see Canada, despite all the rhetoric of reconciliation, continue to oppress some of our most vulnerable people . . . our elders, I just can’t take it,” he said.