OTTAWA—A woman who alleges she was raped at age 15 while being transported to a residential school has had her settlement claim rejected for a fourth time-a case New Democrat MP Charlie Angus says highlights major gaps in the settlement agreement for survivors.
The woman, whose identity is protected by the process, alleges in 1971 a man who worked as a guidance counsellor for the federal Department of Indian Affairs, as it was then called, told her it was his job to take her to St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask.
She says the man sexually assaulted her while they were on their way to the school, about 85 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
The case was filed under the independent assessment process created through the wider Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to adjudicate individual claims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and to determine compensation.
Last week, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled her claim falls outside the scope of the agreement, because the woman was not yet enrolled at residential school at the time of the alleged sexual assault, and because the accused was not an employee of the school. She further noted the alleged assault did not happen on school property.
In rendering this decision, the judge upheld three earlier rulings that came to the same conclusion.
In her ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Justice B.J. Brown called the case and its outcome “troubling," but noted the woman is not precluded from pursuing a claim "through other means.”
Angus called the case “appalling," and the judge's position "ridiculous.”
Angus says he believes it's part of a pattern of tactics used to block some residential school survivors from receiving compensation. He cited multiple cases of claims that have been denied over the years, including those brought by former students of St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont.
“What we have seen time and time and time again is a government willing to use the endless resources of the Justice Department to wage a toxic legal war against the legal rights of survivors,” Angus told reporters Monday in Ottawa.
He called on Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to intervene in this particular case and immediately award compensation to the woman.
In a statement released late Monday, Bennett's office acknowledged that what happened to the woman in this case was “horrific and inexcusable.”
Bennett has directed her departmental officials to identify other possible means for appropriate resolution even though the court ruled that her claim doesn't fit within the negotiated terms of the settlement agreement.
Her office confirmed that the federal government “does not dispute these allegations.”
“We know that IRSSA (Indian Residential School Agreement) did not address all forms of Indigenous childhood abuse. We are committed to resolving claims that fall outside of this process which is why Minister Bennett has also directed the department to investigate to ensure appropriate resolution of similar claims,” said Jane Deeks, Bennett's press secretary.
“Our government will continue to work with survivors and their families to ensure that every Indigenous child who was harmed under past governments is compensated.”
Angus, however, says a parliamentary committee should conduct a broader review of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
“We may never know how much of these cases were falsely adjudicated. I think a fair thing, now that this process is coming to an end, would be to learn lessons from it,” he said.
According to the latest statistics available on the Indian residential schools adjudication secretariat's website, as of Dec. 31, a total of 99 per cent of the over 38,000 claims filed have been resolved. Only 13 claims remain in progress, nine of which are at the post-hearing stage.
Speaking to reporters from the Liberal cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller suggested this case has not been raised with him, but that he would be willing to look into it.
“It is something that sounds... disgusting. But these things need to be looked at quite carefully and I'll be more than glad to engage with Mr. Angus-I've had some interactions with him in the past-and dig into this issue and get a prompt response.”