Monday, September 19 marked the start of the 11e edition of Indigenous Peoples Awareness Weeks (Indigenous Awareness Weeks). This event aims to provide an opportunity for members of the McGill community, students and employees alike, to learn more about the histories and cultures of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and communities. During these two weeks, the University will organize performances by Indigenous artists, as well as discussion groups and information sessions on issues such as the revitalization of Indigenous languages, Indigenous legal and educational traditions.
The Weeks take place on the sidelines of the long legal battle waged by the Kanien’kehaka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers) against McGill University’s New Vic project on the site of the former Royal Victoria Hospital. In this lawsuit against McGill, the City of Montreal, the Attorney General of Canada and the Société québécoise des infrastructures, the Mohawk Mothers seek an interlocutory injunction to stop the construction of the project because of suspicions ” that the site contains unmarked graves of indigenous children (tdlr) “, they express in a statement of September 17th. The hearing is set for October 26.
Requests from the Mohawk Mothers
Resting on the slope of Mount Royal, the site of the New Vic remains on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory, according to the Mohawk Mothers. In a press release published on September 17, they recalled that the construction is taking place ” without the permission of the native owners » and that the site is built with « funds borrowed and never repaid of the Rotino’shonni:onwe (Iroquois) Trust Fund “. The Mohawk Mothers, in their press release, point out that ” the evidence suggests that the site contains potential pre-colonial remains of Iroquois villages or burials “. The site would also be the possible location of unmarked graves of Aboriginal children ” used as guinea pigs for psychiatric experiments “, they declare in the press release. Indeed, the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University served as a testing ground from 1954 to 1963 for the experimental medical program MK-Ultra. This program was financed by the CIA, the Canadian and American armies and governments, as well as by the Rockefeller foundation. In his affidavit filed on August 25, Philippe Blouin, doctoral candidate in anthropology at McGill, affiliated with the Mohawk Mothers collective, affirmed that the site was a place of medical experimentation, where use was made experimental drugs like LSD-25 as well as electroshock and sensory deprivation treatments on patients at the Allan Memorial Institute. He also acknowledges “that it is very likely that Aboriginal children were referred to the IAM (Allan Memorial Institute, editor’s note) in the 1950s and 1960s” as part of the application of the laws on juvenile delinquency enacted by the Indian Act in 1951.
” If nothing is done, the graves and the forensic evidence could be destroyed, which would lead to a irreparable harm and a lack full respect for the indigenous communities and the spirits buried on the site »
Press release from the Mohawk Mothers of September 17
Lana Ponting is one of many former patients at the Allan Memorial Institute. Interned in 1958, she recounts her first treatments at the site in her sworn statement made before the Superior Court of Quebec on August 25: “ The nurse came with a pole and a bag containing something. She told me to lie down and she put the needle in my arm. I felt funny. I tried to get up but couldn’t. The next thing I remember, it was really awful. My balance was affected by this medicine. And I saw other people walking like zombies in the corridor, and I wondered if I was like them (tdlr) “, she says. Contacted by The offense, Philippe Blouin agreed to inform us about the requests expressed by the Mohawk Mothers in the context of their legal action. He shares that “the Mohawk Mothers are concerned that there is no direct attention given to searching for human remains. […] which constitutes forensic evidence”. The inventory of potential archaeological remains recommended in the Arkéos report, commissioned by McGill in 2016, preceding the excavation work, should begin in the coming weeks. This work should begin before the hearing on October 26, as indicated in the press release of the Mohawk Mothers. No particular provision has yet been announced by McGill University or the Société québécoise des infrastructures regarding the potential presence of unmarked graves. In a letter sent to all parties involved, the Mohawk Mothers requested that an independent dig be held under their supervision, accompanied by a log-archaeologist (archaeologist specializing in the discovery of human remains) and using new technologies such as geo-radar, which has already been used during searches near residential schools in 2021. This request has so far remained unanswered. Contacted by The offenseFrédérique Mazerolle, the McGill media relations officer, assured that the University is “still in contact with the parties involved”, without however giving more details on the progress of the excavations.
In order to better understand the legal implications of the request for an interlocutory injunction (which will be heard by the court on October 26), The offense contacted Kirsten Anker, a law professor at McGill University who specializes in Indigenous law and was involved last year in the research group created by the Mohawk Mothers. She told us that an interlocutory injunction is a ” in the meantime (tdlr) », a simplified procedure aimed at temporarily stopping an action. If the interlocutory injunction is granted, the legal action continues in order to arrive at a possible permanent injunction which consecrates the rights of the parties in a definitive manner.
During the hearing on October 26, the Mohawk Mothers will have to justify several elements: that one of their ” rights are at stake » ; that the dismissal of the request for an interlocutory injunction would lead to ” serious damage » which cannot be compensated financially; and, that after consideration of ” the balance of convenience “, the damages that would cause the approval of the interlocutory injunction would be justifiable, indicated to us Kirsten Anker. One of the rights at stake in the excavation and construction work put forward by the Mohawk Mothers is that of the unceded nature of the site, which would therefore be subject to Aboriginal law according to their interpretation of section 35.1 of the Constitution on the rights of aboriginal peoples of Canada. Indeed, it postulates: “The existing rights — ancestral or resulting from treaties — of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are recognized and affirmed. The issue of the rule of Indigenous law will be a “ challenge » for the judges, told us Kirsten Anker, in particular because of the few existing precedents.
If the request of the Mohawk Mothers is accepted, the Court may order a temporary halt to the work in order to carry out an in-depth investigation into the presence of archaeological remains and unmarked graves. It is only if the request for an interlocutory injunction is accepted and if the investigation is conclusive that the Court could decide on a total stoppage of work during the hearing on the permanent injunction.
However, what is at stake in the trial is not limited to the decision of October 26, Kirsten Anker told us. It is also the mediatization of claims, and ” being able to say things about public records […] that can be counted as successes “.
Contacted by The offenseMcGill University assured through Frédérique Mazerolle: “We are committed to collaborating […] with the indigenous communities so that the necessary research is carried out” and renewed its commitment to “involve the indigenous communities at McGill and elsewhere in the design of the New Vic project”.