Residential students also abusers: hearings
Allegations are surfacing at compensation hearings that students abused fellow pupils at Canada's now-closed residential schools for aboriginal people, CBC News has learned.
The allegations are being made as federal adjudicators work out a compensation package at hearings under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history.
Nearly 6,000 people have been identified as abusers at the hearings, according to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Most of those named are former teachers and clergy, many of whom have died, but 20 to 25 per cent of those accused were students.
The government is hiring private investigators to track them down and they'll get a chance to tell their side of the story. But no cases will be referred for criminal investigation.
Former student Mary, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition her real name not be used, said she named her student abusers to her lawyer before her hearing in June, adding that one of them still lives near her.
Mary said she blocked out her memories of sex and drug abuse at the age of 12 or 13 by other students at the Port Alberni Residential School in British Columbia until a year ago when she started therapy and had to prepare for her hearing.
Put in danger
She said she didn't realize her abusers would be notified about her accusations until she bumped into one of them on the street.
"His whole attitude towards me changed — aggressive and scary. …I don't think the government realized how much more danger they're putting us in."
In a separate case, Charlie Thompson had to defend himself on Dec. 9 against a woman's accusations of sexual assault while the two were at the Port Alberni Residential School.
"When I got the call, it was like I was just left hanging, and I'm just thankful I'm OK," said Thompson, who was sexually abused by staff at the Port Alberni school.
"I'm strong enough to have this kind of call, but I'm thinking about those people who are not OK who received the call."
Thompson, who said it was a case of mistaken identity, said he took the opportunity to defend himself at his accuser's hearing.
"I didn't feel good. I felt like a criminal …. But I told my truth. That's all I can do."
Jennifer Wood, who works with residential school survivors, said the whole process of identifying former students as abusers is creating a lot of friction in the aboriginal community.
"How do you cope? How do you get through this?" she said.
The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs said contacting alleged abusers is a better alternative than going through the criminal courts.
Director general Luc Dumont said it's only fair for people to be told they've been accused of abuse.
"The adjudicator[s] have to ask questions that will unfold how the abuse took place … and make an assessment. It's not an easy task."
Dumont said this process was set out and agreed upon in the settlement agreement. He said there may be remote communities with fewer resources, but a toll-free crisis line is open 24/7 and people will be referred to the help they need.
Survivors like Thompson said they're living through the trauma all over again.
"There doesn't seem to be anybody that I know of who's doing anything to make it better for the former students of residential schools," said Thompson. "Nobody seems to understand that those institutions created a whole lot of dysfunction."
A decision in Thompson's case is expected next April.
Thousands of the former students say they endured sexual, physical and psychological abuse while attending the schools, which were run by churches and funded by the federal government from the 1870s until the mid-1970s.
As of May 31, more than 5,800 hearings have been held and 5,074 claimants have been compensated for a total of $615 million, the government said.
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