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

Just Posted

Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming moves to the role of transportation minister in the NDP’s new cabinet. (B.C. government file photo)
Vancouver Island MLAs claim key roles in new cabinet

Key ministries headed by veteran and rookie Island MLAs in Horgan’s new team

Ladysmith’s 1st Avenue will be lit up until January 15. (Cole Schisler photo)
Ladysmith’s 1st Avenue all aglow

Although the tradition Light Up this year was cancelled, folks can still enjoy the holiday lights

Christmas will look a bit different in Cumberland this year, not only because of COVID restrictions but due to changes from BC Hydro about hanging decorations on the poles. Record file photo
Snowflakes left out in the cold for Island town

Holiday season tradition a no-go for Cumberland’s power poles

Karl Ablack, chair of the Port Renfrew Recovery Task Force, says visitors should steer clear of the community after the second wave of COVID has begun to hit across the province. (Black Press Media file photo)
Port Renfrew, Pacheedaht First Nation asks visitors to steer clear of community again

Tight-knit community of 400 has yet to report single case of COVID

The old home at 785 Island Rd. is coming down as the developer was unable to find a feasible business case to save it. (Black Press Media File Photo)
With no takers to move old Oak Bay home, teardown begins

‘We tried a last hurrah,’ developer says

Penny Hart is emotional outside the Saanich Police Department as she pleads for helpt to find her son Sean Hart last seen Nov. 6 at a health institution in Saanich. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: Mother of missing Saanich man begs public to help find her son

Sean Hart last seen leaving Saanich mental health facility Nov. 6

Police in Nanaimo are looking for a suspect who wore a black-and-white striped hoodie and rode a yellow mountain bike when he allegedly stole three children’s backpacks from a daycare facility. (Photo submitted)
VIDEO: Thief steals children’s backpacks from Nanaimo daycare

Suspect rode a yellow mountain bike and made off with backpacks hanging on fence

The Klahoose First Nation village on Cortes Island is under lockdown until further notice due to a positive COVID-19 test. Photo courtesy Kevin Peacey.
Cortes Island First Nation community locked down due to positive COVID-19 test

Klahoose First Nation has had one positive test, one other potential case

North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney has spoken out about some veterans losing their Dimished Earning Capacity income. (Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror photo)
Blaney pens letter to minister about veteran supports

Concerned about veterans losing some income

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

No face-offs until at least Dec. 8 after the BCHL shuts down pre-sesason play. (Citizen file)
BCHL cancels remainder of the pre-season

Island teams see their exhibition season cut short

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

Most Read