Residential school education can spell trouble

A new study has shown a “a very clear indication of the inter-generational trauma…” of residential schools. Photo: Marites N. Sison
A new study has shown a “a very clear indication of the inter-generational trauma…” of residential schools. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published September 26, 2012

An aboriginal person who has had a personal or family involvement with a residential school in Canada is statistically more likely to end up in the care of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), a new study now shows.

And, being involved with the CAS increases his or her likelihood of getting in trouble with the law.

The study, Residential School Experience and Involvement with the Criminal Justice System, was commissioned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). A copy of the study report was provided exclusively to the Anglican Journal.

The report also shows a statistically significant relationship between personal or family involvement with residential schools and exposure to violence as a child.

“Involvement with the CAS is linked to separation from the family, [as well as] physical or sexual abuse as a child and criminal behavior later in life,” write the study authors.

The findings provide “a very clear indication of the inter-generational trauma…” of residential schools, said Jonathan Rudin in an interview. Rudin is program director at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALST) and co-author of the report, along with Ashley Quinn, an applied quantitative data analysis instructor at the University of Toronto. The report will be included in the TRC’s final report on the legacy of residential schools, to be published in 2014.

The study is based on statistical analysis of about 400 Gladue Reports–information about the personal and family history of an offender that is provided to courts for consideration when imposing sentences. The information was compiled by the ALST in the Toronto area from 2001 to 2005.

The study does not establish whether or not attendance at residential school
is linked to criminality. In part, this is because many of the reports did not contain information about personal history, explained Rudin.

Statistics have consistently pointed to the over-representation of aboriginal inmates in Canadian prisons. In 1988, the Canadian Bar Association published Locking Up Natives in Canada, a study that showed 11 per cent of inmates in federal jails were aboriginal and 17 per cent of inmates in provincial and territorial jails were aboriginal.

Today, even though aboriginal people make up less than four per cent of the total population, one in four male inmates in Canadian prisons is aboriginal, pointed out Rudin. The figures are even worse for women and youth: one in three women in jail is aboriginal and almost a third of incarcerated youth is aboriginal. Of this latter group, 40 per cent are female. (About 90 per cent of aboriginal women in prison reported prior physical abuse and 53 per cent reported sexual abuse, according to the Ontario Women’s Justice Network (OWJN) website.)

While a bigger sample is needed to test whether or not residential school experience leads to criminal behaviour, analysis of Gladue Reports from Brantford, Sarnia and Thunder Bay, all in Ontario, may yield more information.

For now, a statistically significant relationship has been established between:

· Indian status and personal or family involvement in the residential school system;

· Indian status and a prior violent criminal conviction and a prior jail sentence;

· exposure to violence as a child and prior violent criminal offences;

· exposure to violence as a child and substance abuse as an adult; and

· exposure to substance abuse as a child and substance abuse as an adult.


Rudin and Quinn said the research helps increase understanding about the impact of residential schools and provides important information for courts to consider when sentencing residential school survivors. A comparison of the incarceration rate of aboriginal youth and non-aboriginal youth in Ontario from 2004 to 2006 shows that aboriginal youth often receive stiffer sentences for the same crimes. “The criminal justice system’s harshest penalties are disproportionately handed out to aboriginal youth in Ontario,” said Rudin.






  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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