‘A crime’: Police investigating handful of cases looking at residential schools

An exterior view of the residential school of the Obaltes Sisters in Fort Alexandre is shown in this handout image provided by the archives of the Societe historique de Saint-Boniface. A tally from police across the country shows there are four ongoing criminal investigations and one decade-long probe into complaints involving residential schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Archives of the Societe historique de Saint-Boniface *MANDATORY CREDIT*

A tally from police across the country shows there are four ongoing criminal investigations and one decade-long probe into complaints involving residential schools.

The Canadian Press contacted RCMP and other policing agencies across the country over the last two weeks.

The agencies said there are four ongoing investigations in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Yukon as well as a probe that began in 2011 into the Fort Alexander Residential School in Manitoba.

These investigations can be time consuming and difficult, but they’re an important part of reconciliation, said David Milward, a law professor at the University of Victoria and member of the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“There is value in making that statement — what happened at the residential schools was a crime,” he said.

The country has been forced to face its history since thousands of unmarked graves were located in recent months using ground-penetrating radar at the sites of numerous former residential schools.

In response, many Indigenous groups called for investigations of all residential schools and NDP members of parliament called on Justice Minister David Lametti to prosecute anyone involved in abuse. Lametti, however, does not have the power to initiate criminal investigations.

“To really get the criminal process started there has to be a police investigation,” Milward said.

Ontario Provincial Police said they are providing investigative assistance to the Six Nations Police Service to look at alleged abuse and death at the Mohawk Institute in the Brantford area.

Mounties in Saskatchewan are investigating circumstances surrounding a possible death in 1974 at the Timber Bay Children’s Home. The home was not considered a residential school but was used exclusively for children who attended schools elsewhere, most who were First Nations or Métis.

Yukon RCMP said Mounties recently received two complaints regarding residential schools: one involving potential unmarked graves and another about a possible missing person.

Mounties in Manitoba say they began looking into the Fort Alexander Residential School, northeast of Winnipeg, in 2010 and a criminal investigation began the following year. So far, there have been no charges.

RCMP in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Alberta, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island said they have no current investigations involving the schools. Surete Du Quebec, which handles investigations into the schools in that province, said it also has no open investigations.

Mounties in Northwest Territories would not say whether there are any ongoing investigations there.

“Generally speaking, RCMP do not disclose whether there is an ongoing investigation,” Marie York-Condon said in an email.

“That said, should anyone have information regarding alleged abuse related to residential schools within the (N.W.T.), RCMP would encourage someone to come forward and report concerns.”

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend residential schools.

Survivors told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stories of abuse they endured at the institutions. Nearly 38,000 claims of sexual and serious physical abuse were submitted as part of the independent assessment process of the residential school settlement agreement.

Over the decades, there have been significant police investigations. A federal report by Mounties says that from 1957 to 2005 there were 60 investigations, 619 victims appeared before the courts and 44 perpetrators were identified.

N.W.T. RCMP conducted an investigation into Grollier Hall and Inuvik schools from 1996 to 2008. It led to more than 80 charges and remains the largest investigation undertaken by Mounties in the region.

In the 1990s, the RCMP-led Native Indian Residential School Task Force in B.C. led to 14 people charged with various offences.

Experts said there are many reasons investigating alleged crimes at the schools takes time. People may be wary to come forward and tracking down witnesses and historical documents is difficult.

In some cases, those implicated or charged have died or left the country.

“The problem with these kinds of criminal investigations and processes is that they don’t really capture the systemic practice very well,” added Kjell Anderson, a law professor at the University of Manitoba.

Anderson said residential schools included an array of human rights violations and potential crimes, ranging from direct physical and sexual abuse to starvation, unsafe housing and inadequate health care.

“I think it’s important to try to look at every aspect if you can,” Anderson said.

“But also understand that criminal justice is limited by its nature in being able to illustrate the full range of what happened in residential schools.”