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Alleged abusers will answer to their accusers.

The government is hiring three times as many private investigator firms as it has been working with the past five years to track down alleged abusers linked with Native residential schools. And that move doesn't sit well with Willie Blackwater.

"When we put in claims for the Common Experience Payments, we share these things from our heart. So why do we have to go through leaps and bounds to prove ourselves?" said Blackwater, a residential school survivor and president of the National Residential School Survivors Society.

Patricia Valladao, spokesperson for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, said it's not about survivors proving their claims; it's about those accused of physical or sexual abuse having the opportunity to speak up.

"The residential school agreement says alleged perpetrators have to be given the chance to respond to allegations against them," she explained.

From 2005 to June 30, 2009, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) had five contracts in place retaining private investigation firms to seek out the locations of former residential school clergy, lay employees, and students alleged to have committed abuse. Those contracts totaled $500,000 over that period. Now, INAC has put out a call for proposals for 15 contracts, five of which must be with Aboriginal firms, to carry out the same private investigation work between July 1, 2009 and March 21, 2010. A budget of $150,000 has been set aside for the contracts.

"All contracts are standing offers and will be called upon once a need arises," said Valladao.

Once an alleged abuser is located by a private investigation firm, their location will be provided to the government. The government will then contact the accused by telephone, followed up by a letter.

Alleged abusers will face an adjudicator. Valladao stressed that this is not a criminal proceeding, but a means to validate claims. If alleged abusers are dead or cannot be found, the claim will be validated "based on the balance of probabilities."

Blackwater is concerned that by looking at former residential school students as alleged abusers the government is "attempting to find scapegoats for the claims. Is this tactic another way the government is saying that since the abuse was done by students and not supervisors, we don't have to pay you? Those are my thoughts."

In October 1994, Blackwater was among 18 former residential school students who filed criminal charges of sexual and physical abuse related to their time at the Alberni Indian Residential School. Former dormitory supervisor Arthur Henry Plint was named and reference was made to older boys who were also involved in meting out abuse.

"We did mention ... Arthur Henry Flint's right hand boys, but we didn't name them," said Blackwater. Not naming the older boys who took part in the abuse was deliberate.

"Our main issue was with Arthur Henry Plint. Those boys who abused us would have had to have learned it somewhere. Our conclusion was that they learned it from those who were supposed to be looking after them."

After alleged perpetrators speak to the abuse, the next step will be for the claimant to receive compensation, not for the alleged abuser to be charged.

"This is a chance (for the abuser to) respond to allegations. They won't be charged because some of (the former students) are themselves victims of abuse," said Valladao.

Blackwater said that he has forgiven both Plint and the older boys involved in his abuse.

"I couldn't continue to hate and despise Arthur Henry Plint. I had to go and see him and forgive him for what he'd done, so I didn't hang on to that pain, so I didn't have the temptation to hurt others."

Blackwater said that the boys who abused him are chronic alcoholics or drug users.

"They're still suffering the pain. They're not ready to face what they've done to others. They may die like that."

About 150,000 Aboriginal children attended residential schools operated by churches. There are approximately 80,000 surviving former students.

By Shari Narine

Windspeaker Writer
COPYRIGHT 2009 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Title Annotation:OTTAWA
Author:Narine, Shari
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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