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Two more aboriginal men have filed lawsuits against the United Church, the federal government and five men for physical and sexual abuse suffered at the Alberni Indian Residential School. For Harvey Brooks, 66, it is the final chapter in dealing with abuse he suffered from 1939-1946. The retired vocational rehabilitation consultant with the Workers' Compensation Board has struggled all his life with the complicated feelings brought on by abuse. Though he went on to become a vocational teacher at Malaspina College, Brooks said Wednesday he "never lived up to my potential." He decided to file the lawsuit as a way to "finally close the book on the issue. This will be the final chapter."
Gilbert Hill, 50, said in a statement of claim filed in BC Supreme Court that he, too, still feels the effects of the abuse inflicted by white supervisors at the school. Brooks and Hill are suing the men they say physically and sexually abused them, the people who hired those supervisors and teachers, and the United Church and federal government for allowing the schools to be run the way they were.
Like most BC native children from the mid-1800s to the 1970s, Brooks and Hill were yanked from their homes and placed in church-run schools. Brooks, who lives in Surrey, is a member of the Lax Kw'alaams band of the Tsimshian Nation, just north of Prince Rupert. He was at the Alberni school between 1958 and 1961, and also alleges graphic physical and sexual abuse by school staff. Both men say their lives have been irreparably harmed by the abuse, the results ranging from suicide attempts to loss of knowing aboriginal culture.
Along with sexual abuse, the men are suing the church for allowing mistreatment, racist ridicule and harassment, including being isolated from family and community, prohibition of using native language, and banning the practice of native religion and culture. The church and federal government - through the Department of Indian Affairs - had actual knowledge of the abuse, says the statement of claim, but did not protect the students. Instead, they kept the alleged abusers on as staff.
Hill alleges he reported the abuse to a school nurse, but that the superiors at the school did not conduct an investigation. Rather, they reported the allegation to the man who was abusing him, who further beat Hill. An RCMP task force has been investigating the hundreds of complaints against church officials and school employees from BC's 15 residential schools. No criminal charges have been laid against any of the five men named in the most recent lawsuit, said Const. Gerry Peters, the lead investigator in the task force. One of the men named is dead.
Criminal charges were laid in another case, against Arthur Henry Plint, 79. He was sentenced in March 1995 to 11 years in prison for 18 sexual abuse related convictions. Seventeen men are also suing Plint in civil court for abusing them. The United Church and the federal government have been named in those lawsuits as well. Plint is not one of the men being sued by Brooks and Hill.
Rev. Bill Phipps, Moderator, United Church of Canada: email@example.com