St. Anne’s Indian Residential School
Catholic Church Operated, Federal Government Funded
St. Anne’s Indian Residential School, located near Fort Albany in northern Ontario, operated from 1902 to 1976. The school was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic Order, with funding from the federal government. Cree children from Fort Albany First Nation and Indigenous children from the surrounding area were sent to St. Anne’s during this time. The so-called school left a legacy of emotional, physical, sexual, mental, and spiritual abuse for the survivors, their families, and their children.
In the early 1990s, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), prompted by recollections of a group of residential school survivors, commenced an investigation into St. Anne’s. The investigation, which concluded in 1996 and uncovered a voluminous collection of documentary evidence, highlighted the pervasive and systematic nature of the abuse of students at the school. Seven former staff members were ultimately charged with criminal offences.
In 2000, over 150 former students launched civil proceedings in connection with their mistreatment at St. Anne’s. Six years later, before any of the St. Anne’s claims could be resolved, Canada and a multitude of other parties negotiated the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (better known as the “IRSSA”). The IRSSA was signed on May 8, 2006, and received court approvals across Canada between December 2006 and January 2007.
The IRSSA set out a framework for resolving “all claims arising from or in relation to an Indian Residential School or the operation of Indian Residential Schools of the Class Members,” including those who had attended St. Anne’s and whose previous civil claims had never proceeded to trial.
The hearing of one of the components of this framework, the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) for claims of sexual and serious physical abuse, commenced in 2007. Despite the volumes of evidence uncovered by the OPP investigation, Canada did not disclose the contents of the OPP documents, nor even their existence, to the individuals bringing IAP claims. As a result, many St. Anne’s survivors had to re-establish the abuse that they had suffered. Others, without the support of those documents, may have been unable to establish the abuse altogether.
As it turned out, Canada had obtained copies of the OPP documents back in 2003 to defend against the original claims brought by the St. Anne’s survivors, but only acknowledged this fact in June 2013, in response to repeated inquiries from applicants’ lawyers. The documents remained housed at the Department of Justice offices in Toronto the entire time.
In the end, the Court ordered that Canada disclose the OPP documents in its possession, including transcripts concerning incidents of abuse at St. Anne’s. Despite the court order, Canada continued to impede meaningful access to the OPP documents.
In 2015, the applicants brought a second challenge in relation to the OPP documents, claiming that Canada had failed to update properly its narrative and person-of-interest (POI) reports for St. Anne’s, had heavily redacted the documents that it did provide, and had otherwise failed to disclose the documents in a way that would permit their meaningful use by applicants and IAP adjudicators.
Regarding the government’s endless fighting with the claimants, one lawyer involved in the proceedings put it this way: “It’s always the most complicated, convoluted interpretation that Canada can come up with that mysteriously ends up leaving the victims of physical and sexual abuse without a remedy.”
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