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Religious Tolerance logo


Sexual abuse by Christian brothers, clergy, etc. in Canada

Systematic child abuse
in Native residential schools

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Systematic child abuse in Native residential schools:

During the 19th and early 20th century, the the Canadian and U.S. governments attempted to assimilate their Native populations into the rest of society. The goal was to force Natives to disappear within the larger, predominately white, Christian society. A key component of this policy were the residential schools, which were operated in Canada for over a century, from 1879 to 1986. Most of these schools were operated by the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. The United Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada also ran a few schools. The federal government provided the funding, but appears to have done little monitoring of conditions at the schools.

Sometimes, children were kidnapped and taken long distances from their communities in order to force them to attend school. Once there, they were generally held captive, isolated from their families of origin, and forcibly stripped of their language, religion, traditions and culture. Students were often beaten if they spoke their native language, or practiced the rituals of their faith. There are allegations that the students were often poorly fed and clothed. Sexual and physical abuse was widespread. Individual natives and native communities continue to suffer the after-effects of students' brutal and criminal treatment in these schools. As adults, many suffer with depression and alcohol addiction, have difficulty in parenting, and live with a loss of culture. The suicide rate among Native peoples in Canada is extremely high.

About 7,000 survivors of these schools are launched a lawsuit against the federal government and the religious organizations directly responsible for their inhumane treatment. The eventual number of plaintiffs were expected to grow to over 10,000. In addition to allegations of personal abuse, many of the claims are based on the children's separation from their family of origin, and their loss of their aboriginal culture.

The Roman Catholic Church is not legally responsible for the abuse in the church's residential schools, because the church does not exist as a legal entity. Some of the schools were run by individual dioceses. Most were operated by the Oblates and similar church orders. The orders and dioceses are separately incorporated, and would be responsible for any liabilities at their schools.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate has repeatedly offered to turn over all of their assets to the federal government, if Ottawa would assume their total liability. They face about 2,000 lawsuits and estimate their potential liability to be $90 million. They speculate that if this is not done, the lawyers will get all of their assets, leaving nothing for their victims.

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Examples of alleged abuse as described in the media:

bullet Allegations of child sexual abuse by against Glen William Doughty, an Oblate brother,  at St. Joseph's Residential School at Williams Lake and the Kuper Residential School, Vancouver Island. 1

bullet "To smile again as children," was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio program about sexual and physical abuse the Innu of Labrador suffered since the late 1950s from the Oblate priests and brothers. On 2002-FEB-28, radio newscaster Judy Maddren said, on a World Report news program: "
"A nun who was hired to work as a counselor in Sheshatshuit Labrador in the early nineties, says the local Bishop at the time, covered up reports of sexual abuse. Labrador Innu have filed 46 lawsuits against the Roman Catholic church and the government. They say abuse took place as early as the 1960s in the two communities of Sheshatshuit and Davis Inlet. The church, in its statements of defense, says it never received a formal complaint, and denies the abuse took place. But Yvonne Maes tells a different story. She was a nun in Sheshatshuit at the time, and she says the Bishop was fully aware of the abuse and did everything he could to cover it up." 2

bullet The Aboriginal Healing Foundation publishes a newsletter "Healing Words." The 2001-FALL issue deals with Canada's residential school system. Included are maps, charts and pictures. Unfortunately, there seems to be a coding problem on their PDF file that renders almost the entire online copy black. 3

bullet A court case before the Supreme Court of British Columbia involves allegations of abuse by 32 plaintiffs who were residents of the Kuper Island residential school near Chemainus, BC, during parts of the 1930s until the mid-1970s. Defendants included the order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, two Sisters of St. Anne, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria. 4

bullet Tom Phillips has sued the Attorney General of Canada, involving the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Cariboo as a third party. "This is an action for damages for sexual assault. The plaintiff alleges that he was physically and sexually assaulted by a number of persons during the time period from 1960 to 1968, while he was a child and a student attending at the St. George's Indian Residential School near Lytton, B.C." 5

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  1. Jane Armstrong, "Oblate brother faces dozens of sex charges - allegations are that assaults occurred at a B.C. residential school" The Globe and Mail newspaper, 2000-JUN-2, Page A3.
  2. Judy Maddren, "World Report," CBC, 2001-FEB-28, at:
  3. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Newsletter for 2001-Fall, at: You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  4. "P.J. et al v. The Attorney General of Canada et al: 2000 BCSC 1780," 2000-DEC-21, at:
  5. "Phillips v. Attorney General of Canada et al 2001 BCSC 522," 2001-APR-5, at:

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Copyright © 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAR-26
Latest update: 2002-JUL-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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