A gavel sits on a desk in Ottawa, Wednesday February 13, 2019. An Ontario judge was wrong to order a legal fight involving victims of one of the country’s most notorious residential schools and the federal government be heard in British Columbia, a higher court has ruled. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A gavel sits on a desk in Ottawa, Wednesday February 13, 2019. An Ontario judge was wrong to order a legal fight involving victims of one of the country’s most notorious residential schools and the federal government be heard in British Columbia, a higher court has ruled. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

St. Anne’s residential school document fight to stay in Ontario, Appeal Court rules

Among residential schools in Canada, St. Anne’s in Fort Albany, Ont., was particularly toxic

An Ontario judge was wrong to order a legal fight involving victims of one of the country’s most notorious residential schools and the federal government be heard in British Columbia, a higher court has ruled.

In its decision this week, the Ontario Court of Appeal said the case pressed by survivors of St. Anne’s should remain in the province.

In coming to its decision, the Appeal Court cited access-to-justice considerations, saying they were particularly pressing given the trauma inflicted on Indigenous peoples in the residential school system.

“Access to justice is best served by providing that an issue raised by an Ontario claimant that is relevant only to members of the Ontario class be dealt with by the Ontario supervising court,” the Appeal Court said.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who has spent years supervising implementation of the Indian Residential School Settlement as the eastern administrative judge, ruled in June the case should be heard by a supervising judge in B.C. Perell had recused himself over his previous criticism of one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Among residential schools in Canada, St. Anne’s in Fort Albany, Ont., was particularly toxic. Students suffered horrific sexual and physical abuse, including being shocked on an “electric chair” to amuse supervisors and forced to eat their own vomit.

Ontario Provincial Police investigated St. Anne’s between 1992 and 1996, during which they collected a trove of information. Six of seven former employees charged criminally were convicted.

The current case, launched in 2013, turns on a group of 60 plaintiffs’ claim that the federal government failed to turn over those documents — despite court orders to do so — before they applied under the class-action settlement for compensation. They maintain the government is still in breach of those orders and wanted Perell to back them.

The Ontario government, siding with the plaintiffs, argued Perell had overstepped his authority by ordering the B.C. move. The federal government argued the justice was entitled to make the ruling.

Montreal-based lawyer David Schulze, who acted as independent counsel in the appeal, slammed the government’s endless fighting with the claimants as a travesty.

“It should shock most Canadians,” Schulze said on Thursday. “It’s always the most complicated, convoluted interpretation that Canada can come up with that mysteriously always ends up leaving the victims of physical and sexual abuse as children in federal schools without a remedy.”

The Appeal Court sided squarely with the plaintiffs. Among other things, it said, Perell misinterpreted the protocol for sorting out disputes that was part of the residential school class action settlement.

Perell had maintained that sending the case to B.C. would allow a judge experienced in the class action to handle the case. It would be unfair and a waste time having an Ontario judge unfamiliar with the proceedings thrown into the legal fight, he said.

Perell also maintained the move would have little practical impact on the plaintiffs because the hearings would be done remotely given the COVID-19 pandemic. The higher court called that irrelevant.

“It could not have been in the contemplation of the parties that a global pandemic such as COVID-19 would prevent class members from safely attending hearings in person,” it said.

The higher court said it would now be up the chief justice of Ontario’s Superior Court to assign a new judge.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus called on Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to do the “right thing” for St. Anne’s survivors and negotiate a fair solution.

Bennett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Indigenousresidential schools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 exposure at The Key, weather shelter announced in Fort St. James

Northern Health made the public service announcement Dec. 1

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
52 positive COVID-19 cases now associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

Eight cases still active, 44 considered recovered

Pipe stringing work in Section 4. (Coastal GasLink photo/Lakes District News)
Pipe installation begins from south of Burns Lake to north of Vanderhoof

Coastal Gas Link’s November update indicates 528 additional workers

Vanderhoof Community Foundation logo.
Donate in your loved one’s name this Giving Tuesday: Vanderhoof Community Foundation

Today, Dec. 1 is celebrated as Giving Tuesday, a global movement for… Continue reading

Janet Austin, the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, not seen, swears in Premier John Horgan during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Horgan says he will look to fill gaps in the federal government’s sick-pay benefits program aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. premier says province prepared to patch holes in new federal sick-pay benefits

Horgan said workers should not be denied pay when they are preventing COVID-19’s spread

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Most Read