Feds say Indigenous leaders ‘eroded public trust’ by criticizing the government

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – The federal government is blaming Indigenous leaders, including the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), for undermining support for the residential school compensation system, the CBC reports

This revelation comes from a court filing, in which the government asks for an independent inquiry into how the feds managed compensation for survivors of the notorious St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario.

The government mentions retired senator Murray Sinclair by name, accusing him of damaging the credibility of the compensation process to such an extent that only a public inquiry could mend the rift. 

Sinclair, who chaired the TRC, had said the mismanagement of compensation for St. Anne’s survivors demonstrated the government wasn’t taking reconciliation seriously. 

“The Liberal government’s legal battle with St. Anne’s residential school survivors diminishes Indigenous rights, and is an example of the federal government not living up to its promises around reconciliation,” Sinclair is quoted in the documents as saying. 

However, the CBC reports that this is an error and the words are in fact paraphrased from a December 2020 interview on CBC Radio’s The House. 

From 2007-2014, when compensation claims were being assessed, the government withheld Ontario Provincial Police documents from a 1990s investigation of sexual and physical abuse at St. Anne’s, which included the electric chair as a form of punishment, deleting those accounts from the document they used to assess claims.

In 2014, the Ontario Superior Court ordered the records’ release. 

Since then, the feds have continued to use the courts to block survivors’ efforts to have those documents unsealed and reopen their cases, spending $3.2 million since 2014 on St. Anne’s-related litigation. 

In their recent filing, the government accused leaders like Sinclair and others representing the survivors, such as NDP MP Charlie Angus, of having “eroded public trust” through their criticisms. 

“This may adversely impact vulnerable class members … for whom personal and legal closure may be elusive due to the suggestion that they have been betrayed or manipulated,” says the filing, which requests the supervision judges in B.C. and Ontario initiate the independent review.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government is requesting the inquiry to “rebuild the relationship” with St. Anne’s survivors. 

“You can tell from the minister’s comments that she is not interested in talking to us … she is displacing our role as survivors, as survivors’ representative,” says author and Order of Canada recipient Edmund Metatawabin, a St. Anne’s survivor who is quoted in the filing for having supposedly damaged Crown-Indigenous relations. 

Another survivor whose words were disparaged in the government’s filing, Evelyn Kormaz, called the filing “very rude and arrogant”. 

The case is in the hands of Justice Benjamin Glustein, who must determine whether Ottawa met its legal obligations to disclose the St. Anne’s records and if those obligations apply retroactively to compensation hearings prior to 2014. 

This case in particular is based on the claims of three survivors who say their compensation hearings were impacted by the failure to disclose the OPP records. There were a minimum of 166 St. Anne’s compensation cases prior to 2014. 

“Carolyn Bennett jumped the gun,” said Korkmaz. “I think she is afraid of what Justice Glustein is going to come up with. She wanted to beat him to the punch.”  

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