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The Figures Just Don’t Support the Abusive IRS Clergy Narrative

The numbers just don’t support the abusive IRS clergy narrative

Originally published in the Western Standard [Calgary, AB, Canada] on October 14, 2023

By Brian Giesbrecht

A 97-year-old former nun is being charged with sexual offences that allegedly occurred more than 50 years ago at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School (IRS).

Similarly, last year a 92-year-old a former priest was charged in Manitoba with indecent assault for an incident that was alleged to have happened more than 50 years ago at the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School in Manitoba.

He was the only person charged after a decade-long RCMP investigation into claims of abuse at the school — one of the most expensive RCMP investigations in the history of the province.

Are these charges being laid now to buttress the narrative many priests and nuns were abusers? Is that narrative true?

The complete list of every person convicted of any crime that occurred in the approximately 143 residential schools and hostels that operated between 1883 and 1996 (when the last residential school closed) can be found in Appendix 3 of the Truth and Reconciliation Report.

That list of 31 names is revealing.

With all the stories about sexually abusing priests, for example, one would expect their percentage of convicted offenders to be quite large. One would expect to find hundreds, or even thousands, of priests convicted of sexual crimes. In fact, there is only one priest and one Christian lay brother on that entire list of 31 convicted offenders for the 100+ years that the schools operated.

And with the many stories of brutality by the nuns who worked at the Roman Catholic residential schools, one would expect to find a long list of convicted nuns. In fact there are only two nuns on that list (both Indigenous.) They were convicted of being too aggressive when administering cod liver oil, or feeding the students.

So, a total of one priest, one Christian lay brother and two Indigenous nuns appear to be the total number of Catholic priests and nuns convicted of criminal offences over the course of well over one hundred years at all of the 143 or so residential schools that operated in Canada.

And there are only two dozen or so other convictions that appear on that complete Appendix 3 list. The convicted offenders were mainly indigenous and non-indigenous dormitory workers, maintenance people, etc. The best known name on that list is that of Arthur Plint.

It wasn’t for lack of trying to find offenders that the list is so short.

As mentioned, that Manitoba RCMP investigation was one of the most expensive RCMP investigations in Manitoba’s history. It yielded exactly one charge — that bewildered 92-year-old former priest. The St. Anne’s investigation was also lengthy, thorough and very expensive. Although sensational claims were made — including the charge, later debunked, that children were electrocuted in an electric chair — only a handful of minor charges were the result.

This is not to excuse any adult who victimized a student. Such people are criminals. And those who were abused deserve every cent of the compensation they received.

However, the many stories told of priests and teachers sexually assaulting children do not hold up to scrutiny. The small list of convicted staff members in Appendix 3 disproves those impassioned claims.

In fact, that story is just as false as the myth that there are hundreds, or even thousands, of secretly buried children who went missing from the residential schools.

But getting back to the 97-year-old nun and the 92-year-old priest, exactly what is going on in our justice system?

Extremely elderly people charged with a “he said, she said” half-century-old charge is not something that would happen in ordinary circumstances. Is it only because the assaults were alleged to have taken place in residential schools that these charges are being laid?

Does “reconciliation” now demand that the full force of the law be brought down on 97-year-olds in nursing homes? How can these very elderly people be expected to understand what is happening to them, let alone defend themselves against such ancient charges.

Here I should mention that the 92-year-old man was acquitted. 

The 97-year-old former nun will probably be acquitted as well. In fact, the cynical people who laid this charge almost certainly know that. But is this something we now do in Canada in the name of “reconciliation”? Is this not unconscionable elder abuse?

Staff and students at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in the 1940s

To sum up this point, it is clear the bulk of the sexual abuse that happened at residential schools cannot be blamed on priests and nuns. In fact, if you want to take a look at information that is more representative of how the priests and nuns actually taught and cared for indigenous children, I suggest you read “Our Dear Children,” appearing in the Dorchester Review.

However, it is equally clear from the testimonies of thousands of former residential school students who testified before the TRC that much sexual abuse did in fact take place.

So who did the abusing?

Jim Miller, lead historian for the TRC, (Miller, Shingwaulk’s Vision, p.423-4) and TRC Commissioners Marie Wilson and Murray Sinclair give us the answer. It was mainly student on student sexual abuse that occurred at residential schools — older students sexually abusing younger students.

This reality was also revealed at the MMIGW Inquiry origins of lateral violence in aboriginal communities.

It is unfortunate TRC Commissioners Sinclair and Wilson chose not to examine the phenomenon of student on student sexual abuse in any detail until after the TRC Report was released. Had the TRC done so, much of the confusion around this issue could have been avoided.

A close study would have revealed the fact many of the IRS students came from highly dysfunctional homes and communities, where alcohol abuse had severely damaged normal family dynamics. Sexual abuse within such homes and communities is extremely common.

It is a tragic fact that entire Indigenous communities fell victim to alcohol abuse, particularly from the 1950s on. Dysfunction was the norm on many reserves.

It is not surprising that children from those homes who entered residential schools then abused others. It was this type of student-on-student sexual abuse that Phil Fontaine skirted around when, in 1990, he gave his famous CBC interview with Barbra Frum, an interview that initiated the entire residential school investigation and left people thinking that the abuse had been committed by school staff or clergy.

It is truly unfortunate the TRC chose not to conduct a thorough examination of this important subject and the largely unexamined topic of how residential schools were used as shelters for children badly damaged by parental neglect, much of it due to alcohol abuse.

It was probably the introduction of those traumatized children into residential schools that largely explains the rampant student-on-student sexual abuse that took place there. One can only hope that at some future time this important subject will receive the attention it deserves.

In the meantime, there are probably still alive today hundreds of former IRS students who sexually abused younger students during their enrolment. None of their names can be found in Appendix 3, because none of them have ever been criminally charged.

Instead, it seems that police roam through nursing homes, looking for allege offenders. Have we now eached a point where the demands of “reconciliation” require us to abuse our elders?

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