Unfinished business on residential schools

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From governments to churches, there have been apologies and promises galore over responsibility for the abuses of the residential-school system. There has been testimony, commissions and settlements. Despite this, there are glaring lapses that call into question the sincerity of these efforts to make amends for what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission labeled a “cultural genocide.”

Two issues concerning Indian residential schools stand out. One of them, according to an Independent Assessment Process (IAP) adjudicator, is the denial of more than 3,000 survivor claims by the government. The IAP was part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement between the government, the survivors and the churches that ran the schools that would set compensation levels for the system’s victims.

It was ironic that, in 2008, former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized and asked on behalf of Canada for the “forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.”

It was only two years later that Justice Department lawyers working under the Harper government began to argue in compensation hearings that more than 50 of the schools listed in the settlement agreement ceased to be residential schools in the 1950s and 1960s when Ottawa took over the operation of the educational facilities. The churches remained in charge of the dormitories. Justice lawyers won their argument that students who were sexually or physically assaulted after that time in any place but the dormitories were not abused at a residential school and were, therefore, not entitled to payment for their suffering.

The good news is that the Trudeau government is looking to remedy the situation.

And yet, the Trudeau government appears willing to continue government complicity in an extremely disturbing cover-up. As part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the government located 5,315 alleged abusers, both former employees and students. To find them, 17 private investigation firms were contracted at a cost of $1,576,380 beginning in 2005.

Even though investigators located thousands of people accused of physically and sexually abusing students in Canada’s residential schools they may never face criminal charges. The alleged abusers weren’t tracked down to face criminal charges but were asked if they would be willing to participate in hearings to determine compensation for residential school survivors.

Information about the abusers would only be released if the adjudication secretariat is served with a search warrant, or if it’s believed a child could be at risk. However, an alleged abuser is entitled to be notified of the claimant’s name and the allegations they made in the IAP application.

Fewer than 50 people have been convicted for crimes related to the schools. Many of the 5,315 alleged abusers were and still could be pedophiles. It seems strange that they would have no investigation into their alleged crimes and no repercussions given their part in this dark chapter of Canadian history. People who abuse children should be held accountable for their actions no matter their age or health.

In essence, the Canadian government is protecting serial sexual and physical predators from justice. In any other context, this would be called aiding and abetting a heinous criminal act. And this, on the scale of thousands.

Of course, we are told there is nothing to stop a person from going to the police. Perhaps the police should request a search warrant for government records. It would save a lot of money in tracking down hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dangerous criminals – even if the Trudeau government continues the Conservative policy of hiding and protecting them.

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