First Nations leaders are applauding a Superior Court of Justice decision ordering the federal government to release documents to survivors of abuse at the St. Anne Residential School at Fort Albany First Nation.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, in a release issued on Wednesday, said the decision stemming from a 1990s criminal investigation was a long time coming.
“We are pleased that the court agrees that the government of Canada has a legal obligation under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to release these documents and that the truth about this shocking abuse will finally be fully revealed,” said Fiddler, who attended the December hearings.
“It is critical that survivors have access to these documents in order to be fully compensated and that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission be permitted to fulfill its mandate to protect this significant part of history for generations to come.”
However, Julian Falconer, counsel for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said it never should have come to the courts.
"One of the important aspects of this decision is that it recognizes that you can't have reconciliation without truth telling. The atrocities at St. Anne's are some of the most horrendous, everything from electrocuting children as young as six years of age, forcing children to eat their own vomit and different forms of sexual abuses," Falconer said.
"These are all matters that horribly scarred communities. There are survivors and they are entitled to appropriate compensation for unspeakable acts. This is the first point, chronicling that to support their claims."
Falconer said history also has a strange way of repeating itself when it's not documented. The task of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee is to protect that history and ensure it doesn't happen again.
He's not sure why the government continues to balk at sharing the information, especially in light of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's apology on behalf of the nation to residential school survivors, their families and their communities.
"If that apology is to have any credibility, then this kind of gamesmanship has to stop. And what has to happen is that a full and meaningful interpretation to Canada's obligations be given by Canada so that we don't have to routinely and repeatedly drag them to court to get them to fulfil their obligations," Falconer said.
In the decision, Justice Perell stated the Canadian government had too narrowly interpreted its disclosure obligations, leading non-compliance under the agreement.
The hearings took place on Dec. 17 to 18, 2013.
Falconer hopes it doesn't have to happen a third time.
"I can tell you this is the second time in 12 months the TRC has had to ask a court to intervene. In my view, specifically in this case, it was a no-brainer. At the end of the day all of this comes from what the court describes as an inadequate understanding on the part of Canada of its production obligation and an inadequate understanding of its relevancy."
The incidents were documented in a five-year OPP investigation that led to criminal convictions of six school employees.
According to Fiddler, survivors have been fighting for the release of the documents since learning of their existence in 2003.
“The survivors of St. Anne’s acted in good faith when they agreed to take part in the independent assessment process, but the government’s failure to provide this evidence to the claimants and independent adjudicators raised significant questions as to whether they would ever receive what they deserve,” Fiddler said.
“The ruling ensures that the facts behind this terrible chapter in history are preserved and it is shameful that it has take two court orders to compel the government to honour its obligations under this process.