Investigation at Mohawk Institute shifts focus from criminal to coroner probe

TORONTO — An Indigenous group involved in efforts to uncover what happened at a former residential school in Ontario said a criminal investigation into unmarked burials and missing children at the institution is winding down, with focus shifting to a coroner-led probe.

“We would like to thank the police taskforce for its assistance over the past year and a half and we look forward to the receipt of their final report, which is anticipated in the fall of 2023,” Laura Arndt, secretariat lead, said in statement.

The Survivor's Secretariat said the coroner's investigation will focus on bringing closure to survivors rather than placing the blame on individuals who carried out atrocities at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ont.

"This will also allow the opportunity for families of victims to review files relevant to their families," the statement said.

The results produced by the coroner's probe will provide more access to data and information which will be uncovered, and they will also be a resource archival researchers and investigators could use.

Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner said it will support the Survivor's Secretariat efforts to uncover what happened at Mohawk Institute.

“We will work closely with the community to determine the next steps forward and share our findings along the way," said Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s Chief Coroner.

Ontario Provincial Police said their officers were still working on the case.

"The investigation is continuing, as officers continue to review a large volume of information that has been collected," said Bill Dickson, a spokesperson for the OPP.

The Survivor's Secretariat said they will focus four major areas -- ground search, archival research, advocacy and commemoration -- as coroner investigations continue.

The group urged the police to open a criminal investigation in the summer of 2021 after Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced they had found 215 potential burials of children who were snatched from their families and taken to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

A joint police task force including the OPP, Six Nations Police and Brantford Police Service was formed to carry out the investigation. At the time, the goal of the criminal probe was to "find out who died, how they died, and where they are buried."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.

The Canadian Press