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RCMP faces Canadian Human Right Tribunal in Burns Lake

Investigation of historic abuse allegations at Immaculata School
Participants in the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal public hearing in the case of Woodgate et al. v. RCMP enter Ts’Il Kaz Koh Gathering Place in Burns Lake on Monday, May 1. The landmark hearing continues in Burns Lake until May 12. (Michael Riis-Christianson photo/Lakes District News)

For the first time ever, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is being held outside of Ottawa, in Burns Lake, to investigate the RCMP’s handling of abuse allegations at Immaculata Catholic School in the 1960s and ’70s. The hearing is taking place from May 1-May 12, 2023 and May 23 – June 1, 2023 at the Ts’Il Kaz Koh Gathering Place in Burns Lake.

The Immaculata Catholic School, had its beginnings in Fort Babine in 1950 and finally closed its doors in 1986 at its second location in Burns Lake. This hearing is set to shed light on the allegations of abuse that took place during the school’s existence and how the RCMP handled them.

In June 2020, six Lake Babine Nation members filed a statement of particulars with the tribunal. They said that the RCMP investigators’ “stereotypes and biased attitudes toward the complainants caused deficiencies in the execution of their investigation”.

For example, according to the statement of particulars, on September 28, 2012, Wilf Adam, then Chief of Lake Babine First Nation, made a public statement to the Canadian Press revealing that he had received reports of abuse allegations at the Immaculata Catholic School. Chief Adam also disclosed that he had personally experienced physical and psychological abuse from the same individual. However, despite Chief Adam’s call for a full investigation into the allegations, the RCMP didn’t interview him. And in fact, the RCMP witness list that included Chief Adam’s name had the word “disregard” written beside it.

Vikki Peters, a local individual, made a pertinent observation in a Facebook post, highlighting the true focus of the upcoming hearing. “It’s not an inquiry into Immaculata, but an inquiry into racism and bias in the RCMP when they investigated after dozens of people came forward about the abuse.”

To that point, earlier in January 2022, the Tribunal, upholding the focus of the hearing to be the RCMP’s investigation of the allegations, addressed a confidentiality motion that was filed by an individual whom the abuse allegations were initially made against at Immaculata. This same person was granted “interested person status” in January 2022, which, while prohibiting them from trying to dismiss the hearing, allows them to seek anonymity.

Since its initiation in January 2020, the tribunal hearing has faced delays. Unfortunately, during this period, four individuals associated with the case, including the lead plaintiff Cathy Woodgate, Emma Williams, Ann Tom, and a witness named Jody Joseph, have passed away.

Between May 1-May 12, 2023 and May 23 – June 1, 2023, 20 witnesses will be sharing their stories on behalf of the survivors. It is anticipated that the rest of the witnesses, who will be participating in the 10-week hearing before tribunal Member Colleen Harrington, will give their testimony virtually.

More details here: