BONOKOSKI: Many residential school abusers ID’d years ago but never prosecuted

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Back in 2005, the federal government began contracting private investigation firms to do the clandestine work of tracking down whatever abusers were still alive from the residential school debacle.

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Seventeen firms were eventually hired at a cost of $1.5 million.

They did their work well.

By 2013, the private eyes had located about 5,300 people who stood accused of physically, psychologically, or sexually abusing students.

Yet where were the prosecutions? Why hasn’t David Lametti, attorney general for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, stuck a special team of elite lawyers to take these abusers to court to get justice beyond the white noise of truth and reconciliation?

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, May 7, 2021.
Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, May 7, 2021. Photo by Adrian Wyld /THE CANADIAN PRESS

It’s the last stone to be unturned, yet nothing.

The trouble is the fact that these alleged perpetrators were not initially tracked down for prosecution. They were located to see if they would voluntarily participate in the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), which was set up to resolve the most severe abuse claims and decide the amount of compensation.

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Based on the total number of people found, 4,450 declined to participate in the hearings.

Perhaps they smelled a rat, and that their so-called “optional” testimony would lead to nothing but trouble.

But it doesn’t matter. The government has their names and the narrative of the alleged abuses, some of which can best be described as torture, like being forced to eat one’s own vomit.

So where are the trials?

Unmarked graves — 751 at a residential school in Saskatchewan, 397 at two residential schools in B.C., with likely many more to come — yet no one has been charged with a single crime.

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It’s outrageous. The government has their names on a platter, but not one prosecution has arisen out of all that misery.

What more does David Lametti need to act? The nod of his PM, the supposedly Indigenous-friendly Justin Trudeau, oldest son of the last prime minister to sign off on the residential schools, which was essentially Trudeau Senior giving his seal of approval?

So, where’s the action? Where’s Justin Trudeau?

The government, for example, has six years of Ontario Provincial Police files that show the St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany, on James Bay, was rife with assaults, sexual assaults, and suspicious deaths.

The school even built its own electric chair.

It was described in various ways. Some said it was metal, others said green wood. But it looked like a wheelchair without wheels, and there were arm and leg restraints, plus electrical wires.

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“I was scared,” one woman told the OPP years later, “{Redacted} hit the switch two or three times while I sat in the chair. I got shocked. It felt like my whole body tingled. It’s hard to describe. It was painful.”

And then, as the OPP noted, the woman began to cry.

According to the Indian Residential School Secretariat, 33,712 residential school survivors had been compensated by 2016 for sexual and physical abuse, with 4,278 applications still in progress.

Only 708 alleged abusers — who are among the more than 5,300 located by investigators — had taken part in hearings..

“I think some of them … could be fearful there might be further repercussions, even criminal charges,” said Bill Percy, a Manitoba-based attorney who has represented a number of residential school survivors.

This, of course, is what should have happened, but it not too late for Attorney General David Lametti to do what is right.

Most of the perpetrators are old by now, but age offers no forgiveness of the past.

Only a courtroom can do that.

markbonokoski@gmail.com

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