Warning: The following story contains details of boarding schools that may be disturbing. The Indian boarding school survivor and family crisis hotline in Canada is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
Canada Toronto – like Many indigenous people Across Canada, the criminal defense attorney Andrew Phoebus from the Lower Courtney Band of British Columbia, Canada, has a personal connection with the “boarding school.”
His mother attended St Eugene’s Mission boarding school, where a ground penetrating radar was discovered at the end of last month 182 unknown graves of indigenous children.
Phypers told Al Jazeera in a recent telephone interview: “There are many people in my community who are attending boarding schools and they can personally prove that atrocities have indeed occurred there.” There are several unmarked graves of St. Eugene The latest discoveries of hundreds of indigenous childrengrave In assimilation institutions established by the government and run by the church.
From the late 1800s to 1996, Canada 150,000 indigenous children removed They were forced to enter institutions managed by church staff, where they had to cut their long hair and were forbidden to speak their language and practice their culture. Many people are physically and sexually abused. Thousands of children are believed to have died.
Canada’s goal is to eliminate Aboriginal culture and provide land and resources for settlers. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a process of recording the stories of survivors for several years, and concluded that this practice was a cultural genocide.
In 2016, the Canadian government determined Over 5,000 abusers, But so far, according to the federal law “Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act” passed in 2000, no individual or institution has faced charges. According to reports, a small number of priests have been accused of sexual assault, but no one faces murder charges. A lawyer familiar with the matter.
Recently discovered unmarked grave Stimulated indigenous groups and lawyers The police are required to bring criminal charges against the Canadian government, churches, and individuals who have committed crimes within the organization.
The Indigenous Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) supports criminal charges, and Phypers is working with a team of lawyers to encourage the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate these institutions. But experts say their efforts may be shelved or blocked by the Canadian government.
“Part of our goal is to see accountability,” Phypers said.
How will it work?
The International Criminal Court is the world’s first permanent international criminal court. It is responsible for investigating and, when necessary, trying individuals who have committed the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Phypers is cooperating with Brendan Miller, a lawyer with a background in international law, who stated that individual abusers, the Canadian government and the Catholic Church may all face boarding school-related charges under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
According to the Act, Canada is one of the only countries in the world that grants prosecutors of the International Criminal Court domestic powers. This means that if the International Criminal Court investigates the boarding school, it can request documents and conduct an investigation, and it would be illegal for the Canadian government to intervene in this process. The International Criminal Court can also ask the Canadian police to help it investigate war crimes.
“If the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opens a document, you will get a pure, independent investigation,” Miller said.
On June 3, Miller asked the International Criminal Court to conduct a preliminary review of Canadian boarding schools. If the court decides to prosecute, it will be tried. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on whether an investigation will be launched.
But the International Criminal Court is the court of last resort — it will not replace national courts unless a country neglects to initiate a fair investigation, Miller explained. Canada has not yet done this.
“They have known all these things for decades, but they have done nothing,” he said, regarding crimes committed at boarding schools, which have been widely documented. “Canada should be the bastion of this human rights. We cannot even conduct a fair investigation of this. This is definitely an embarrassment. This is obviously a crime against humanity.”
Obstacles to justice
In addition to prosecution by the International Criminal Court, there are other criminal prosecution channels.
Any justice of the peace in Canada can file charges under the Criminal Law (the law that regulates criminal offences in Canada), such as murder or sexual assault. However, if officials want to charge individuals or institutions with crimes under the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act—such as genocide—they need to obtain the consent of the Attorney General of Canada.
This is where it gets complicated, because in practice this requirement means that the government itself will be able to stop the charges. In the Canadian government, the attorney general filed a lawsuit on behalf of the government and is the highest legal counsel of the Canadian government.
“As far as I know, the police did not raise any charges, so consent is not required,” NWAC general counsel Steven Pinker explained, questioning why the police took so long to seek justice. “This is our position. There is overwhelming evidence that genocide occurred in Canada,” he said, pointing to the 7,000 boarding school survivors who testified at TRC.
Phypers, Miller, and NWAC have all called on the Attorney General and Canadian Attorney General David Lametti (David Lametti) to agree to accept the charges, if and when they will be filed. Rametti has not yet made a commitment to this.
Lametti’s press secretary, Chantalle Aubertin, told Al Jazeera: “The Attorney General is reviewing all options within the judiciary to advance the truth and justice related to this national tragedy.” “Important. It is important to note that criminal investigations fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the police. The Canadian Attorney General and the Attorney General will not initiate criminal investigations.”
However, Miller said that if the minister “really explores all options very seriously — I can tell you, we have made this request in writing — they will pass a piece of legislation to establish an independent police agency. Investigate the matter and allow them to do it.”
Miller said: “So he said he is considering all options, he can’t force an investigation, all this is rubbish,” Miller said, adding that Rametti can ask the municipal police to conduct an independent investigation. “They just don’t want to,” he said.
Al Jazeera asked Rametti’s office whether he would take these steps, but did not receive a timely response.
‘People are very angry’
The NWAC has called on the Canadian Federal Police Force and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to declare the crime scene at the boarding school and investigate those who committed the crime there.
But Phypers questioned whether the RCMP can conduct an impartial investigation because it is the authority that enforces boarding school-related laws and removes indigenous children from their parents. Al Jazeera asked the RCMP if they would investigate, but they did not answer this question.
Across Canada, police forces are currently investigating Vandalism with burn The church is classified as a hate crime, but it is not clear whether the police are investigating crimes in boarding schools.
“I know very well that people are very angry with these discoveries and clearly blame the churches, which is why these churches were burned down symbolically and actually,” Phoebus said.
He said that if the grave was found on private property rather than on the premises of a boarding school, the police may have launched an investigation. “They will say, where did these corpses come from, and who is responsible for putting them there? When it is now connected with the church and the government, you will not have the same reaction.”
But Phypers said that he hopes that public pressure will prompt the police to conduct a fair investigation, leading to prosecutions and criminal trials across the country. “I hope that after the discovery of all these mass graves, this will motivate them to act quickly, especially as this number continues to rise.”