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Crimes against children at residential school: The truth about St. Anne’s – The Fifth Estate


[♪♪] [Gillian] It is a seven-decade
old mystery that has brought Ontario’s provincial
police to these northern woods. What they are
looking for are graves. We’re going to
walk about a mile, that’s a long way to
be hidden I guess. [Gillian] In 1941, three young
boys went missing from here. Never seen again. For years the people of
Fort Albany begged police to excavate what they believe
is a 70-year-old crime scene. That’s all we want is
some, some cooperation, some belief. That’s where we were told in an
area where it was so we’re gonna make a wider perimeter so
we can search a little wider area than that. [Gillian] Time has hardened the
unanswered questions into a deep and
abiding suspicion of what really went on in one of Canada’s
most notorious Indian residential schools. [ ♪♪ ] It was called St Anne’s. Funded by the government and
for decades administered by the Catholic orders of the
Oblates and the Grey Nuns. Generations of children from
remote James Bay communities were forced to
attend the school. Running away was not uncommon. [man] The three boys ran away
from the school one night in early- to mid-April. And it was determined that
the boys had tried to cross the river late at night to get to
the other side and in doing so there was a break up of ice at
that time and that they were likely washed out to sea. [Gillian] That is the
70-year-old official story. But Cree elder, Ed Metatawabin,
says the community’s story, handed down through generations,
is that the boys returned to the school and were
punished…to death. It has to be looked at,
it has to be investigated. The boys didn’t die in the
bush, they died under custody. The charge is really
that people at the school, people associated
with the church, murdered three boys. Is that conceivable to you? Oh, yeah. The people that have
received physical punishment, they know it’s conceivable. That’s not beyond belief for us. [Gillian] There is
no school today. Fire destroyed the last
remaining buildings four years ago. But talk to anyone who went here
and the memories still sear. There’s so many things
that happened to them, happened to us
when we were here. [Gillian] 74-year-old
Angela Shisheesh was just seven years old the first time
she arrived at St. Anne’s. Coming back was more
than she could handle. Right now it seems that
I’m travelling back in my younger days. I could hear– I
could hear the kids. Now I better– we
better go back. You don’t want to
be here anymore? Nope, I’m getting–
I’m feeling too weak. Ok, let’s go back then. Come with me. I remember we used to go
to another building to go and take our breakfast. I didn’t want to eat the
porridge because it was too thick, didn’t taste right. And the other girl
that I saw, she got sick. Same thing happened to me. One of the helpers,
the big girls, was the one pulling my hair. A nun was standing beside her,
grabbed the spoon and fed me my vomit. Couldn’t swallow it at first. Couldn’t swallow it. [Gillian] They called
it a prison and it must have felt like it. Instead of names,
children were given numbers. Ed Metatawabin was number four. He lived at St. Anne’s
till high school, later becoming one of
his community’s leaders. The punishment he remembers
most sounds almost unbelievable. We were electrocuted
in the electric chair. [Gillian] That’s right. He says the school had a
home-made electric chair. It sat in the dormitory. If you don’t behave, you
will get electrocuted. Can you describe for me
what the chair looked like? Uh, metal handles for the
armrests and I think there was a continuous flow from the right
side to the left side so that the current would
travel through our bodies. People would cry, people would
squirm and different reactions. [Gillian] There were
priests, nuns, fear, isolation. St. Anne’s was a
petri dish for abuse. Angela Shisheesh remembers one
priest in particular who would translate for the
visiting dentist. In those days you know how when
they used to give you needle to freeze it was very painful eh? My hands were tied up like this. So was my legs. Tied to the chair? Yeah. And he says I saw two, two
of them that I have to fix. [Gillian] It was when the
dentist left the room that the priest took over. That priest started to
kiss all over my face. And I was scared. And I cried and I cried. Sitting in the chair like that. And the dentist came
out, “Are you afraid? “You’re crying, are you afraid?” And that priest keep on
saying, “Yeah, afraid, afraid.” [ ♪♪ ] Mr. Speaker, I stand before
you today to offer an apology to former students of
Indian residential schools. The treatment of children in
Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history. [Gillian] In 2008 Canada’s
historic apology to residential school survivors
came with a promise. In return for not
suing the government, former students who could prove
abuse would be compensated. The government would prepare a
summary of what was known to have happened at each school. Adjudicators would decide
what each claim was worth. As with most things bureaucratic
it got reduced to a formula. Points would be awarded for
different kinds of abuse. Sexual abuse would get
the most points of all. Based on that, St. Anne’s
survivors like Evelyn Korkmaz joined tens of thousands
from across the country in filing claims. I thought, good, I
could, you know, get some kind of compensation
where somebody is acknowledging what happened to me. It was part of my
healing process. [Gillian] As a child, Evelyn was
raped at St. Anne’s repeatedly. For hours she detailed the
abuse for her adjudicator. Only to have her claim denied. He said he didn’t believe you? He didn’t believe
a word I said, no. It was traumatizing, you know. I came home. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that
this was the process. [Gillian] According to
the adjudicator’s report, Evelyn’s account of her
sexual abuse was not credible. And nor, it seems, were
other St. Anne’s claims, which struck the former students
as odd because there was a record of their abuse going
back a decade and a half. In 1992, after years of silence,
the community came together and decided it was time to start
telling the stories of what went on at the school to police. Do you want to take
the tape down? Yeah, we can do that shortly. [Gillian] This is the Ontario
provincial police officer who heard the stories first. In 1992 Greg Delguidice was just
starting his policing career. He would come to know the
St. Anne’s community well. His investigation
lasted seven years. What kinds of
things were you hearing? Physical and sexual abuse that
was taking place on students from staff at the school,
some religious personnel, some civilian
staff at the school. There were also allegations of
physical and sexual abuse on children by other children. Widespread? It was widespread and it was
systematic and it was… out of control. [Gillian] By any standard,
Delguidice’s investigation was massive, one of the first in
Canada to examine residential school abuse. Seven hundred former students
and staff were interviewed. More than 70 alleged
perpetrators identified. And yet only five
would be convicted, despite all the
testimonies police collected. Did I not believe them? Absolutely not. I believed every one of them. There was no issue with that. The crown attorney’s office
spent nearly a year reviewing all allegations and deciding
which ones would be marked for prosecution and it was
at end of that that those numbers showed up. The OPP investigation consisted
of more than 12,000 documents. But after the trials
they were filed away. The police had them of course. The government would later
admit it had copies too. And yet when former St. Anne’s
students started filing compensation
claims, time and again, it seems no one knew what
they were talking about. We were surprised that
they didn’t know the story. We told the story to the police
and all of us thought we were telling it to the government. But they were coming to us as if
they didn’t know anything about what had transpired before. [Gillian] Indeed the
government’s official summary of St. Anne’s,
distributed to adjudicators, said there were just four
known incidents of abuse at the school. All of them physical. No known sexual abuse at all. It was as if detective
Delguidice’s massive investigation had
never happened. When you heard that,
what did you think? Very disappointed
in the whole matter. What kind of a cover up is going
on that they deny that there ever was even an investigation? I was on the investigation
for seven years. Absolutely there
was an investigation. Children at St. Anne’s
residential school suffered nightmarish levels of abuse and
yet the office of the attorney general suppressed thousands of
pages of police evidence that identified those perpetrators. [Gillian] NDP MP Charlie Angus
has been trying to get answers from the government for years. When I learned that there were
thousands of pages of police testimony and
documents, and evidence, and the naming of the
perpetrators that had gone on to reveal, you know,
this house of horrors, you expect as a Canadian
that justice will be done, and then it never was done, and
then when you see the process that’s supposed to be in
place for compensation and reconciliation, you think,
man it’s a slam-dunk for the survivors of St. Anne’s. This should be a pretty
straight-forward process. And it wasn’t. Obviously, they
were playing games. They didn’t want to
release the documents. Because? It implicates too many people. Implicates people in government,
it implicates people in church. Why would you hide something if
it doesn’t implicate somebody? [Gillian] When we come back,
the St. Anne’s survivors go to court, and we reveal those
police documents for the first time. There’s no respite from the
darkness until you close it at the end. [speaker] Honourable
Prime Minister… [Rt Hon Justin Trudeau]
Mr. Speaker, the ills done to Indigenous people over
decades and centuries of colonialism in this
country are shameful and are something that we need to
learn from and move forward on. [Gillian] Since Canada
started compensating survivors of Indian
residential schools, nearly 40 thousand
claims have been approved. The payout has been more
then three billion dollars. But the government has also
spent something approaching three million dollars fighting
survivors of St. Anne’s residential school in court. In 2013 former students sued
the government for access to documents they believed would
prove their compensation claims. Documents collected as part of a
seven-year police investigation. Investigative files
aren’t meant to be public. Few outside the police
and government had ever seen this one. Until last year, when
someone delivered CBC reporter, Jorge Barrera, a package. I received three CD-ROMs of
these documents in a brown paper envelope that was slid across a
food court table at an Ottawa mall, and I didn’t know what was
actually in there until I got back and I put it into my laptop
and I realized that these were the OPP documents from the
investigations into St. Anne’s. [Gillian] Barrera had covered
the survivor’s court fight to get the documents. But even he had no idea of
the darkness they contained. Every single page almost in
these documents was just an itemization of abuse and torture
alleged by the people the OPP interviewed. And it was incredible. There’s no respite from the
darkness until you close it at the end. [Gillian] What the documents
confirm is what St. Anne’s survivors had claimed, and been
told there was no evidence to prove. That electric chair. It existed. There’s even a diagram. This one has vomit, vomit… [Gillian] The
forced eating of vomit? There were dozens of accounts. Physical abuse was
common at the school. A one-time principal
who later became bishop was reported to have beaten a
student unconscious with a whip. And then there was
the sexual abuse that the government’s official
summary of St. Anne’s concluded had never happened. According to the police
documents, it was rampant. Children sexually
assaulted by nuns, by priests, by school employees,
and sometimes by each other. [ ♪♪ ] [Gillian] Of all the offenders,
one of the worst was a priest who was at the school
for nearly four decades. Father Arthur Lavoie. Which one is he? This one in the middle. What do you know about him? Always hung around
with the girls and boys. And always he would start
touching you here and then his hands would fall
down, um, touching you. He was always touching you. [Gillian] For many it went
a lot further than that. Lavoie groomed his victims, told
them the sex he forced on them would ensure their
place in heaven. The OPP recorded 313
complaints against Lavoie. He died before he
could be charged. Is it credible, is it possible
that the people who ran the school did not know that
this abuse was going on? I don’t think that
that’s possible. Why? Because there were so
many people doing it, and it was so out in the open. [Gillian] So, all
of this information the government had for years,
and yet argued wasn’t relevant to compensation claims. In the end, a judge told
the government it was, and ordered the documents
be turned over to the St. Anne’s survivors. But that didn’t end it. The government is still fighting
survivors in court today, as they demand their
claims be reviewed. Some reconciliation,
says Charlie Angus. They’ve gone to the wall
with the most excessive legal arguments. To go after such marginalized
people who are so clearly in the right, with a government
that is so clearly committed to reconciliation, tells me that
the dysfunction in Canada about injustice for
Indigenous people, runs really,
really, really deep. The government says 96 percent
of St. Anne’s claimants did get some kind of compensation. But it won’t say how many of
those cases were adjudicated before the OPP
documents were turned over. Won’t say if the absence of
those documents meant some people were denied compensation
or at least got less than they were entitled to. The agency responsible for
compensation claims told us answering our questions
would take too much work. Mr. Speaker, I want to be very
clear with the member that we are not blocking
reopening of cases. [Gillian] Carolyn Bennett
inherited the St. Anne’s file from her conservative
predecessor. She’s on record as
saying mistakes were made. So what’s she prepared to
do to make things right? Minister Bennett, hi, I’m
Gillian Findlay from The Fifth Estate… [Gillian] After refusing our
requests for an interview, we caught up with the
minister in her constituency. Can you tell us why it is the
government continues to fight these people in court when
they are simply trying to get compensation? Well, as you know, we are
not fighting them in court. They have decided to see us
in court based on their lawyers’ advice. We think they’ve been
getting bad advice. These are people who had
information withheld from them by the government that they
claim they say has affected their ability to file
proper claims and that they’re owed money. What is wrong with reviewing? Why can’t you at
this moment say– We are working with all the St.
Anne’s survivors to make sure that they get exactly what they
deserve and more if possible. They don’t see that. They see the government
fighting them yet again. I think if you look at the
justice’s statement on why there has been such difficulty it is
not on behalf of the government. Ms. Bennett, why
can’t you just simply, as the minister
say, “Enough of this. “We’ve been fighting too long”? Why don’t you as minister say,
“We want to review this and we’re going to review this and
we’re going to do right by these people”? We are reviewing it and we want
to be at the table that’s where this will be solved. We don’t want to be in court. Why do these
people not know that? We don’t want to be in court. They want to sit down with you. We want them to get
everything they deserve. [ ♪♪ ] [Gillian] Betrayal permeates
everything when it comes to St. Anne’s. Betrayal by government. Betrayal by the Catholic church. To this day the Oblate order
that ran this school has never admitted abuse happened here. And today, the sense
of betrayal continues. The OPP’s search last fall
lasted less than a day and found nothing. The mystery of the three
missing boys endures. Ed Metatawabin was
disappointed but not surprised. Inside was a statue
of the Virgin Mary. [Gillian] Time
and again, he says, the people of Fort Albany have
trusted the white man’s notions of salvation and of justice. Like St. Anne’s
itself, trust is now gone. They ran. They ran away. And what they left
behind was a mess. I don’t think we will ever
recover in our own lifetimes what happened. And they’re still continuing
to hide it until there’s nobody left to fight. Until all of us are gone. [ ♪♪ ] [ ♪♪ ]

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