Warning: The story below contains details of boarding schools that may be disturbing. Residential Indian School Survivors and the Family Crisis Line Canada is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
Toronto Canada – Likes Many aborigines Across Canada, Andrew Vipers, a criminal defense attorney from the Lower Kootenai Division in the Canadian province of British Columbia, has a personal connection to “boarding schools”.
His mother attended St Eugene’s Mission Residential School, where late last month he found ground-penetrating radar. 182 unmarked graves of Aboriginal children.
“I have a lot of people in my community who attended boarding schools and can personally testify to the atrocities that happened there,” Vipers told Al Jazeera in a recent phone interview. The unmarked graves of Saint Eugene were among the many. The recent discoveries of hundreds of Aboriginal childrentombs q In assimilation institutions established by the government and run by the Church.
From the late nineteenth century until 1996, Canada 150,000 children removed from the indigenous population From their homes and forced into institutions run by church staff, they had to cut their long hair and were forbidden to speak their language and practice their culture. Many of them were subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Thousands of children are believed to have died.
Canada’s goal was to kill aboriginal culture to make land and resources available to settlers. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a years-long process of documenting survivors’ stories, concluded that the practice was cultural genocide.
In 2016, the Canadian government set More than 5000 usersSo far, no individual or institution has faced charges under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, a federal law passed in 2000. A few priests have been charged with sexual assault, but none have faced murder charges, according to lawyers familiar with the matter.
Recent discoveries of unmarked tombs Stimulating indigenous groups and lawyers To require the police to bring criminal charges to the Canadian government, churches and individual perpetrators of crimes committed in institutions.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is behind the push for criminal charges, while Phypers is working with a group of lawyers to encourage the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the institutions. But experts say their efforts could be stymied or thwarted by the Canadian government.
“Part of our ambition is to see accountability,” said Phypers.
How will it work?
The International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent international criminal court, investigates and prosecutes individuals for the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Phypers works with Brendan Miller, a lawyer with a background in international law who has said individual abusers, the Canadian government and the Catholic Church may all face boarding school charges under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
By law, Canada is one of the only countries in the world that grants the ICC prosecutor domestic powers. This means that if the ICC opens an investigation into boarding schools, it can demand documents and conduct an investigation, and it would be a crime for the Canadian government to interfere in the process. The International Criminal Court can also ask the police in Canada to help them investigate war crimes.
“If the ICC prosecutor opens a file, you will have a pure and independent investigation,” Miller said.
On June 3, Miller asked the ICC to open a preliminary examination for boarding schools in Canada. If the court decides to prosecute, there will be a trial. The ICC prosecutor did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on whether it would open an investigation.
Miller explained that the ICC is a court of last resort – it does not replace national courts unless a state ignores initiating an impartial investigation. Canada has not yet done this.
“They’ve known all these things for decades, and they’ve done nothing,” he said of the crimes committed in boarding schools that were widely documented. “Canada is supposed to be a human rights bastion, and it’s an absolute embarrassment that we can’t even conduct an impartial investigation into this matter, which is clearly a crime against humanity.”
Obstacles to justice
Other than the ICC trial, there are other ways to bring criminal charges.
Any peace officer in Canada can bring charges, such as murder or sexual assault, under the Criminal Code, the law that defines criminal offenses in Canada. But if an officer wants to charge an individual or organization with a crime under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act — genocide, for example — they will need the approval of the Canadian attorney general.
This is where it gets complicated, because, in practice, this requirement means that the government itself will be in a position to block the charge. In the Canadian government, the attorney general conducts litigation on behalf of the Crown and is the supreme legal counsel of the Canadian government.
“As far as I know, the police have not brought any charges, so no consent is required yet,” explained Stephen Pink, the NWAC’s general counsel, and questioned why it took the police so long to pursue justice. “It is our position, there is compelling evidence of genocide in Canada,” he said, referring to the 7,000 residential school survivors who testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Phypers, Miller and the NWAC have called on Attorney General David Lamette, who is also Canada’s justice minister, to agree to the charges, if and when they are filed. Lametti has yet to commit to that.
“The Minister of Justice is examining all options that fall within the justice portfolio to advance truth and justice in relation to this national tragedy,” Chantal Obertin, press secretary for Mitte, told Al Jazeera. “It is important to note that the investigation of crimes falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the police. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada does not initiate criminal investigations.”
However, Miller said that if the minister was “really serious about exploring all options – and I can tell you we’ve asked in writing – they will pass legislation creating an independent police body to investigate this and let them do it”.
So to say he’s looking at all options and can’t force an investigation and all of that, that’s rubbish,” said Miller, who added that Lamty could ask the municipal police to conduct an independent investigation. “They just don’t want to,” he said.
Al Jazeera asked Lamti’s office if it would take these steps, but it did not receive a response in time for publication.
‘People are very angry’
The NWAC has called on the Canadian federal police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to announce crime scenes at residential school sites and to investigate the persons responsible for crimes committed there.
But Webers wondered if the RCMP could conduct an impartial investigation because it was the authority that enforced laws regarding boarding schools and took Aboriginal children from their parents. Al Jazeera asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police if they would investigate, but they did not answer the question.
Across Canada, police forces are investigating recently sabotage And the burn Churches as hate crimes, but it is not yet clear whether police are investigating crimes in boarding schools.
“It’s clear to me that people are very angry about these discoveries and they obviously hold the church responsible, and that’s why these churches are being burned symbolically and virtually,” said Phypers.
He said that if the graves were found on private property rather than residential school sites, it is likely that the police would have opened an investigation already. “They would have said, Where did these bodies come from, and who is responsible for putting them there? When you are now connected to a church and government, you will not have the same reaction.”
But Fabers said he hoped public pressure would prompt police to open impartial investigations that would lead to prosecutions and criminal prosecutions across the country. “I hope in the wake of all these mass grave discoveries, this will motivate them to move quickly, especially as that number continues to rise.”.