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Rights + Justice

Human Rights Tribunal Hearings Start Today in Burns Lake

Here’s why we can’t publish the name of the powerful figure at the centre of this inquiry into the RCMP’s handling of abuse allegations.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 1 May

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

Today, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal embarks on what will be the first day of weeks of testimony examining the RCMP’s handling of abuse allegations at Indigenous day schools in northern B.C.

At the centre of the inquiry is a prominent figure who has held high-profile positions. At times, this meant working closely with the RCMP. The allegations against him — that he abused children decades ago while teaching in Burns Lake and Prince George — have been widely publicized, going back more than a decade.

But The Tyee can’t name him. Here’s why.

In January 2022, the same month the hearing was initially scheduled to begin, the individual was granted “interested person status” in the tribunal proceedings. Although the status expressly prevents him from applying to have the hearing dismissed, it allowed him to request anonymity.

The Tyee and APTN challenged his application. That September, the tribunal granted the confidentiality order, concluding there was “real and substantial risk” that identifying the individual could cause undue hardship.

As a result, we can’t tell you his name. We can’t tell you his date or country of birth, the city or province in which he resides, his job — past or present — or any awards or honours he’s received. We can’t name his family members.

Despite the story being widely reported over the past decade, including in The Tyee, we can’t link to any of that reporting.

We can tell you that A.B., as he has now been anonymized in official documents, taught at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake in the late 1960s before moving on to Prince George College in the early 1970s. He was accused of abuse by former students in an article that appeared in the Georgia Straight in 2012. The article led to a defamation suit, and countersuit, between A.B. and journalist Laura Robinson. The original claim was withdrawn after Robinson lost her counterclaim.

The story remains online today.

Before it was published, one of A.B.’s accusers took her story to Burns Lake RCMP. After a two-year investigation, police declined to lay charges, saying the recollections of those interviewed lacked “details for time, place, identity of suspect, and any corroborating events that could possibly overcome these deficiencies,” according to the complainants.

The RCMP investigation is the subject of the current inquiry. A complaint was initially filed by day-school survivors to the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2016. After investigating, the commission referred it to the tribunal for inquiry in 2020.

In June 2020, six Lake Babine Nation members filed a statement of particulars that said RCMP investigators’ “stereotypes and biased attitudes” resulted in a flawed investigation, contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“First, [the RCMP’s] traditional investigative methods fail to meet the needs of Indigenous victims of abuse, and are executed with biased attitudes,” the statement says. “Second, the RCMP failed in their obligation to modify their traditional practices to meet Indigenous people’s cultural needs, an obligation arising from the known distrust of the RCMP by Indigenous people.”

While the claim is specific to experiences of childhood abuse in northern B.C., “it represents the experiences of many other Indigenous people nationwide,” the statement says, adding that it also demonstrates how “the protection of powerful individuals serves to exacerbate the discrimination of oppressed groups.”

A.B. has never been charged in connection with the allegations and has vigorously denied them. In his application to the tribunal, he argued that identifying him would cause “undue hardship to his dignity, reputation and mental health.”

In its response to the tribunal, the RCMP sought to have the complaint dismissed, saying it had thoroughly investigated the allegations and that many of the complaints “misunderstand the structure of the criminal justice system.”

In The Tyee’s submission challenging A.B.’s confidentiality application, lawyer Leo McGrady noted that while intimate details of the complainants’ lives, mental health and physical health will be disclosed over the course of the tribunal hearings, “A.B. would have those same matters protected and shielded from public view by the tribunal’s order.”

McGrady argued that a confidentiality order would be “futile” given that A.B.’s identity, and the allegations against him, are already in the public domain.

“It is difficult to imagine any members of the public being puzzled as to the real identity of the person referred to as A.B.,” McGrady wrote, arguing that an open and transparent legal process should take priority.

“The granting of the confidentiality order sought by A.B. would in a sense replicate the power imbalance between the complainants and A.B. that existed at the time the events referred to in the complaint are alleged to have occurred, and the power imbalance that exists now.”

Motions before the tribunal have delayed the hearing nearly a year and a half. During that time, three of the six complainants — Cathy Woodgate, Ann Tom and Emma Williams — and one witness, Jody (Roddy) Joseph, have died.

Remaining complainants Richard Perry, Dorothy Williams and Maurice Joseph are joined by roughly 20 witnesses who are scheduled to testify on their behalf. Journalist Laura Robinson and former Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith are also listed as witnesses for the complainants.

The RCMP has 10 witnesses scheduled to testify in its defence.

The hearing is scheduled to continue at the Ts’il Kaz Koh Gathering Place in Burns Lake this week and next, and will then move online from May 23 to June 1 and June 12 to 22.  [Tyee]

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