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

Remains of the scene off Melrose Road in Whiskey Creek where three bodies were found on Nov. 1, 2020. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Probe continues into grisly mid-Island discovery of 3 human bodies, 4 dead dogs

Police still want to speak with motorist who picked up hitchhikers near scene on Nov. 1

New crosswalk across Henry Road from the Mount Brenton Golf Course is now in use for golfers. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Awareness required in the initial stages of new signalized crosswalk

Drivers looking at more stops and starts while golfers stick to one crossing point

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley was passed up for a cabinet position by Premier John Horgan. (Photo submitted)
Routley left off the list of NDP cabinet ministers again

Premier Horgan opts for some newcomers in key positions over experienced MLA

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce has worked to support businesses throughout the pandemic. (File photo)
Ladysmith Chamber reflects on a challenging 2020

For small businesses looking to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 one… Continue reading

A bus shelter in White Rock is emblazoned with an ad from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (Black Press Media files)
VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Signs asking British Columbians to think about racial injustice have been put up across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks to a reporter in Vancouver on November 13, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
No evidence that B.C. ER staff played blood alcohol level game, but Indigenous racism widespread

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond releases findings of independent investigation

The Nov. 20 WestJet flight 3171 has been identified by the BC Centre for Disease Control with a COVID case aboard. (Black Press file photo)
Fifth COVID-19 exposure reported on flight at Comox airport

Another exposure risk from flight originating in Calgary

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

Langley RCMP issued a $2,300 fine to the Riverside Calvary church in Langley in the 9600 block of 201 Street for holding an in-person service on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, despite a provincial COVID-19 related ban (Dan Ferguson/Black Press Media)
Langley church fined for holding in-person Sunday service

Calvary church was fined $2,300 for defying provincial order

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

Most Read