Canadian lawyers request ICC investigate residential school system as crime against humanity

EDMONTON — Dozens of Canadian lawyers have requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate the Canadian government and the Catholic Church for crimes against humanity.

Fifteen lawyers made the official request following the discovery of an unmarked burial site at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Brendan Miller, special counsel at Foster LLP based in Calgary and one of the lawyers who filed the request, told CTV News Edmonton that while the discovery at Kamloops was “horrifying,” they know it is only the start of damages residential schools have inflicted.

The request is asking the ICC to open a preliminary examination, the court’s lowest level of investigation, into the residential school system.

Miller said this is important because it allows an independent ICC prosecutor to oversee the investigation and that under Canadian law, anyone impeding that investigation could be criminally charged.

“I think it is appropriate given the lacklustre response that has been by law enforcement to date,” he said. “Though these crimes happened up to 1996, the fact is the continued cover-up of crimes against humanity is a crime against humanity itself. That’s what is happening right now by the suppression of these documents and records.”

“They can’t just investigate themselves,” he added. “There has to be independent oversight.

“Simply asking the RCMP to open an investigation as came after we filed our complaint is not good enough.”

Miller said Indigenous people have waited long enough for an independent investigation into residential schools and that the current process being followed is “not good enough.”

He cited the example of how the Catholic missionary group in charge of administering the Kamloops residential school said publicly they have documents they will turn over to aid investigators but that they needed time to digitize the records.

“(That) is insane,” he shared. “I have never heard of a major criminal investigation where the police service investigating allows a suspect time to digitize the evidence.

“This is extremely concerning.”

For Miller, having independent oversight from the ICC would allow for scrutiny of both the government and the Catholic Church’s role in administering and overseeing residential schools.

“We are at a point where there is no justification, none, for those records not to be handed over,” he said.

Since the initial request was filed, Miller said more lawyers have asked to sign on to the request in future addendums. He hopes more will continue to add their names.

“It’s important that lawyers come forward for this,” Miller said. “We keep the state in check. That is what this is about.” 

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Touria Izri

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here

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