A First Nations coalition has demanded the resignation of a senior Saskatchewan judge over a dispute regarding a residential school file.
The call comes in response to the court’s refusal to release a file outlining Catholic Church compensation immediately.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents Saskatchewan’s First Nations, has demanded the resignation of one of the province’s top judges for failing to release a residential school file immediately.
According to FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, the court’s attitude exemplifies the institutional racism that First Nations people face in the criminal justice system. He claimed that the refusal to immediately turn over the documents is retraumatizing survivors.
Cameron stated that Chief Justice Martel Popescul of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench must resign immediately.
“This is a textbook example of the systemic racism we face every day in Canada’s institutions, such as the justice system,” Cameron said.
According to CBC News, a file in the Regina courthouse may contain information about whether the Catholic Church kept its promises to residential school survivors. The file includes an explanation for the church’s alleged $25 million in “in-kind services” to survivors.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) requested a copy of that file.
A court official declined to release the file, instead delivering it to Justice Neil Gabrielson, the case’s original judge.
Gabrielson also declined to produce it immediately. He stated that an application must be made and all parties must be notified.
Popescul was asked by CBC News to immediately release the documents, but he stated that he was unable to do so.
Popescul was unavailable for comment on Tuesday regarding the FSIN’s allegations of systemic racism in the courts.
Popescul stated in an email sent to CBC News last week that the court “has a supervisory role over court records” and that proper procedure is being followed.
“To meet your deadline, the court will not alter its procedures, expedite its processes, or abdicate fundamental responsibilities,” the letter stated.
Popescul stated that access to a court exhibit is “controlled by the presiding judge” and that interfering now that Gabrielson has rendered his decision would be inappropriate.
“Independence of the judiciary is a fundamental tenet of our legal system,” wrote the chief justice.
“You will receive your response in due course, and if you are not satisfied, you may consider appealing to the Court of Appeal — the proper and customary procedure.”
This process, legal experts with extensive knowledge of the compensation agreement said, could take months and will force elderly survivors to wait for answers. They assert that this is a public document that should be made immediately available.
Mayo Moran, a former dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, Thomas McMahon, a former Truth and Reconciliation Commission general counsel, and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan provincial court judge and director of the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre in Vancouver, are among them.
“Compliance by the Catholic Church with the settlement agreement cannot be kept a secret from survivors. That would be contrary to the spirit and intent of the settlement agreement, as well as to the principles of truth and reconciliation “McMahon stated earlier this week.
Cameron, among others, concur. They assert that survivors own information. Popescul, he stated, “had the opportunity to do the right thing” but chose not to.
“These documents belong to the people who trusted… the court process to be fair and accountable, and their trauma is ongoing and felt daily by survivors and their communities,” he said.
“He cites the same racist systems and laws that upheld and enforced genocide against our people in order to protect these vital documents. The same racist institution that coerced our infants into these heinous schools, murdered and buried these children carelessly, and even imprisoned First Nations parents for attempting to prevent them from attending.”
A.J. Felix, an elder of Sturgeon Lake First Nation and a residential school survivor, stated this week that the time for patience has passed. He is considering accompanying other survivors to the Regina courthouse to personally demand the Catholic Church documents.
“We didn’t see it, and nobody is going to show it to us,” Felix explained. “We have a right to know what the church is saying in order to safeguard its reputation and integrity.”