Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Ottawa drops bid to keep St. Anne's evidence secret

The federal government had requested that documents related to residential school abuse be kept sealed.

By: Tim Alamenciak

News reporter

Toronto Star

The Canadian government has dropped its bid to keep secret documents related to survivors of St. Anne’s residential school after a Toronto Star story highlighted the move.

A judgment issued Jan. 14 directed the government to hand over documents from a 1992-1996 Ontario Provincial Police investigation to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Independent Assessment Process, the body responsible for administering claims from survivors of residential schools.

The government asked that all evidence from the hearing be kept secret.

The package of evidence contains affidavits from seven survivors of St. Anne’s, as well as transcripts of criminal trials in the 1990s that resulted in the conviction of several staff members.

Residents of St. Anne’s say they suffered horrible abuses at the facility, including being forced to eat their own vomit and being subject to shocks from an electric chair.

During the hearing, lawyers for the federal government requested a sealing order on the evidence presented, including that of Fay Brunning, a lawyer for 60 survivors. Justice Paul Perell granted a temporary sealing order to give the media and government time to prepare arguments.

The bundle of evidence is still subject to an interim sealing order that will be deliberated Feb. 24, but the government will not ask for it to be permanently sealed.

“All parties have obligations to protect confidential information provided under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. Canada takes this obligation seriously however in this case we will not pursue a sealing order,” said a statement from the office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

The move marks a significant victory for Brunning’s clients.

“As one of my clients said, ‘What's worse? The original abuse or the fact that now they're hiding the abuse we've already proved through court proceedings?’” said Brunning last week. “My clients, the former students, trust the media that they’ll comply with a publication order that would merely require that they can’t distribute this on the internet and they have to not identify names or identifying factors.”

The chief adjudicator, an independent body that oversees the administration of claims, is still considering the information and may still request a sealing order or other limitations.

“The Chief Adjudicator was just recently advised that Canada would not be seeking a sealing order and in view of this, is reviewing the matter with a view to making a decision shortly,” wrote Michael Tansey, a communications advisor for the adjudication secretariat, in an email.

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