News

Judge in Alberni residential school court case dies

By Wawmeesh G. Hamilton, Alberni Valley News

The judge who presided over the court case involving former students who were abused at the Alberni Indian Residential School has died.

Former Chief Justice Donald Brenner died suddenly at his home last Saturday. The married father of two was 64.

The B.C. Supreme Court “is shocked and saddened at the news of the sudden death of Don Brenner,” said current Chief Justice Robert Bauman in a statement. “Our thoughts are very much with Don’s wife Robin and his family at this time.”

Brenner presided over the Blackwater vs. Plint case, which ran from 1998 to 2001.

The trial involved students who attended the Alberni Indian Residential School who sought damages for abuse that took place between the 1940s and 1960s.

He described the case on the Vancouver Foundation website as his most difficult while a judge.

Brenner found the testimony emotionally draining, he said in the Vancouver Foundation interview.

“I listened to evidence of physical and sexual abuse that went back many, many years but which involved people who were children at the time,” Brenner said.

“It was difficult hearing these plaintiffs tell their stories,” recalled Brenner, who said could not fathom that these incidents had happened to young children.Children from Nisga’a Tsimshian, Haisla, Gitksan, Heltsuik and Lax Kw’alaams stayed at the school during its 53-year history.

In the end Brenner ruled in favour of the students.

His decision was ultimately upheld after being appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Brenner graduated from law school in 1970 and was called to the bar in 1971.

He was named to the Supreme Court in 1993 and chief justice in 2000.

After retiring in 2009 he practised dispute resolution with Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy LLP.

He was born in Toronto, and earned a pilot’s license at age 17.

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