A column of Dr. Dineen
Decades ago, misguided government policies resulted in thousands of children
being placed in residential schools. In the 1990s, we questioned this
well-intentioned philosophy. We came to look back on these institutions
as dens of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
But in the rush to make amends, governments compounded their mistakes. The newly released Kaufman report, Searching For Justice, is a riveting account of such harm. Written by Fred Kaufman, former justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal, it chronicles an in-depth investigation into Nova Scotia's handling of reports of institutional abuse and its program of compensation to a staggering total of 1,246 "victims." Using phrases like "recipe for disaster," he describes how "pernicious notions" contaminated the process, causing it to be "so flawed, that it left in its wake true victims of abuse who are now assumed by many to have defrauded the government, innocent employees who have been branded as abusers, and a public confused and unenlightened about the extent to which young people were or were not abused while in the care of the province of Nova Scotia."
Instead of alleviating pain, it distorted justice and left both the genuine victims and the falsely accused forever under a cloud of suspicion.
This happened, Kaufman said, because "The government was swept up by the prevailing opinion that abuse was widespread and systemic."
While he doesn't identify the source of this influence, I attribute it to advocates of social justice. Chanting the mantra of "revictimization," altering words' meanings to fit their cause and assuming guilt based on anecdotes, their dogmatic ideas, assumptions and attitudes have infiltrated media, politics and governments.
They have us tiptoeing around, hesitating to doubt the honesty of anyone
who claims to have been abused and fearing to reject subjective definitions
of abuse like the one in a 1995 Nova Scotia audit that held abuse to be
"usually someone exerting power over someone else, leaving the victim
It was this Alice-In-Wonderland mentality that led to genuine cases being lumped in with false ones. Even eminent jurists, it seems, have come to view reality through a social justice lens. In 1995, the former chief justice of New Brunswick, Stuart Stratton, undertook an investigation in Nova Scotia and concluded, "the abuse claims presented to him (by 89 former residents) were generally reliable and accurate."
Presuming the credibility of the claims, however, he did little to investigate.
Sixty-nine claimants, Kaufman said, alleged they'd been abused. Eleven
supplied accounts in writing only. Stratton saw just one of the 58 others.
No one provided accounts under oath. No comparisons were made between
accounts given to Stratton and to the RCMP. At least three former residents
who made allegations against a staff member weren't even at the school
when he was.
"That a jurist of Mr. Stratton's stature found the abuse claims
to be generally reliable and accurate," Kaufman says, "could
only contribute to the perception of the public and the government that
an objective, detailed investigation had confirmed the existence of widespread
systemic abuse, perpetuated through a 'conspiracy of silence and inaction.'"
Once Stratton's assumption was accepted as fact, accusations went unquestioned.
Claims swelled. The accused, tainted with assumed guilt, were excluded
from the process. More than $61 million of taxpayers' money disappeared.
From Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland, to Grandview School for
Girls in Ontario, to Jericho School in Vancouver, clouds of doubt should
The moral and financial costs may already be unbearable. Last December,
when the Diocese of the Cariboo became the first Anglican diocese in the
Commonwealth to be sued into bankruptcy, we felt a ripple of shock. There
are many more to come.
Last week, the anticipated financial crisis caused the Anglican Church
of Canada to break away from the other churches involved in multimillion-dollar
residential school lawsuits in a desperate attempt to negotiate independently
with the federal government so it might avoid collapse. Ottawa had announced
that it was considering lumping thousands of claims of residential-school
abuse into one class action suit in which compensation would likely be
meted out with little attention to separating real from false victims.
Other nations, too, are caving in. In Ireland last week, an agreement
was worked out for up to $680 million of public and religious funds to
be paid in compensation and counselling to about 3,500 claimants who were
former students in state schools.
Recently, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England, expressed concerns
similar to Kaufman's when he said child abuse allegations "were easy
to make" and might be motivated by claims for compensation.
But will governments listen? Will they ever learn?
I certainly hope they heed Kaufman's reminder of their duty to "educate
the public to recognize, and avoid, myths, stereotypes and assumptions.
Although government must be alert to public opinion, it cannot be swept
away by an uninformed public. In this regard, it must lead, not simply
But I fear that, instead, they'll continue to blindly follow the pied-piper
call of social justice until, in some future decade, attention becomes
focused on these abuses of today.
by Dr. Tana Dineen, special columnist, The Vancouver Sun