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Ontario Provincial Police files obtained by CBC News reveal the history of abuse at the notorious residential school that built its own electric chair

The preteen girls would take turns with the towel in the bathroom of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School.

One at a time they would wrap it around their throats and pull it tight.

“We called it getting high. We’d get dizzy, lightheaded,” one of them said nearly two decades later, on Aug. 3, 1993, during an interview with Ontario Provincial Police investigators in Room 251 of the Howard Johnson Hotel in London, Ont.

“We looked forward to it,” said the residential school survivor, whose name is redacted in the OPP transcript. “It was an escape.”

The woman, by then in her mid-30s, was describing her horrific nine-year stay at the school on Fort Albany First Nation, near the James Bay coast, as part of an indecent assault investigation of one of its former nuns.

What she needed to escape, she told investigators, were the constant strappings and whippings, and the sexual assaults by a man she knew only as “the gardener.”

“This shouldn’t have happened to us. They’re God’s workers, they were to look after us.”

The transcript of the interview is among thousands of pages of OPP records from a sprawling investigation into abuse at St. Anne’s obtained by CBC News.

The investigation began on Nov. 9, 1992, after Fort Albany First Nation Chief Edmund Metatawabin presented evidence to police following a healing conference attended by St. Anne’s survivors. Over the next six years, the OPP would interview 700 victims and witnesses and gather 900 statements about assaults, sexual assaults, suspicious deaths and a multitude of abuses alleged to have occurred at the school between 1941 and 1972.

Investigators identified 74 suspects and charged seven people. Five were convicted of crimes committed at the residential school

But from 2008 to 2014, the federal government omitted references to the OPP investigation, including the convictions, from the official St. Anne’s record, known as the school narrative, used during compensation hearings created by the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The school narrative is a key piece of evidence for compensation cases heard under the agreement’s Independent Assessment Process (IAP). Adjudicators who hear survivors’ stories can refer to the school narrative as one way to determine the veracity of a claim.

In the case of St. Anne’s, adjudicators relied on a school narrative that said there was no record of sexual assaults or student-on-student abuse cases. The school narrative referred to only four recorded cases of physical abuse found in St. Anne’s records in the Indian Affairs Department archives. The cover page for one of the OPP investigation documents. (CBC) Yet, the federal Justice Department obtained the OPP files from the investigation in 2003 after a group of St. Anne’s survivors filed an abuse lawsuit in Cochrane, Ont., against Ottawa and the Catholic entities that ran the school. The case ended with a settlement.

Indian Affairs also included a reference to the OPP case and the convictions in the St. Anne’s school narrative used during the Alternative Dispute Resolution process for settling compensation claims, which ran from November 2003 to September 2007, when it was replaced by the IAP.

A 2014 ruling from the Ontario Superior Court forced the Harper government to disclose the OPP files and documents from the civil action in Cochrane to St. Anne’s survivors.The school narrative used in the IAP hearings grew from 12 pages to about 1,200 pages referring to more than 12,000 documents.Litigation has continued following the ruling as it emerged some St. Anne’s survivors lost compensation cases because adjudicators doubted the veracity of their claims […]

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