A death certificate for a Vicky Stewart, who died of meningitis at an Edmonton hospital. Her death is playing a role in a class action launched against the Archdiocese of Edmonton, one of its priests and his missionary order. Photo courtesy of Province of Alberta

Child’s death certificate muddies Edmonton class-action allegation

  • May 8, 2024

An alleged murder that is part of a class action suit against the Archdiocese of Edmonton was actually death from meningitis, a government record obtained by The Catholic Register affirms.

In court filings last February, lead plaintiff Sphenia Jones says she witnessed fellow student Vicky Stewart dying “after being hit in the head with a wood implement by one of the nuns” at the Edmonton Indian Residential School in the 1950s.

On April 22, Justice James Farrington ruled the suit had a “reasonable chance of success and completes the basics.” Farrington struck down an earlier motion by the Archdiocese to dismiss the suit. The Archdiocese argued nothing shows Jones was the intended subject of claimed “defamatory” remarks by local Oblate missionary priest Fr. Marcin Mironiuk.

In the court filing, Jones references the nun, the wooden implement, and says “the school didn’t want to send Vicki (sic) to the infirmary because of what happened.” When she reported the incident, she was “punished, told to keep quiet, and told nobody would believe her.”

However, In a 2021 interview published on the website of a photojournalist named Tallulah, Jones describes going to “work in the Edmonton residential school infirmary” and seeing an unnamed girl lying in one of the beds with “blood on the pillow.” When she tried to wake the nine-year-old girl, Jones discovered “the back of her head was bashed in.” She makes no mention of a nun or wood implement during the interview.

But the Register has obtained a 1958 death certificate for a girl named Vicky Stewart recording that she died at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton. Cause of death is listed as respiratory failure due to meningitis.

Stewart was from the Katkitla Reserve in northern British Columbia, now called the Gitxaala Nation. Her body was returned to Prince Rupert, B.C., for burial.

The certificate records that the death was not due to “accident, suicide or homicide.” The residential school in question was run by the United Church of Canada, not the Catholic Church or nuns.

Jones, 79, says in the court brief “she has firsthand knowledge of children dying and being buried at the Edmonton Indian Residential School. She saw “where they were buried, along the fence — an area now overgrown with trees. One of her fellow students, Eddie Hans, was made to bury many of the children.”

The claims form part of the class action defamation lawsuit against Mironiuk for his comments in a July 2021 homily to the parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Poland Parish in Edmonton. Mironiuk called the claims of “mass graves” at or near former residential schools “lies, big lies.”

In addition to disputing the claim of mass graves of children, Mironiuk is also reported as saying, “there were reports stating why these children were dying from natural causes and were buried in regular cemeteries.”

His remarks followed the May announcement by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir that a ground penetrating radar specialist had confirmed the “stark truth” of “remains of 215 children who were students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”

The homily, delivered in Polish, was posted on the parish YouTube site but subsequently removed.

The class-action suit names Mironiuk, the missionary order to which he belongs and the Archdiocese of Edmonton. It accuses the Polish priest of defaming Jones and all former residential school students who “have spoken out publicly about the existence of unmarked graves at residential schools and deaths of children at residential schools by non-natural causes.”

Brian Giesbrecht, a retired Manitoba court judge and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, told The Catholic Register it is noteworthy that with only one exception, “none of the approximately 6,000 ‘survivors’ who testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) mentioned anything about ‘unmarked graves and deaths by non-natural causes.’ ”

Giesbrecht says that “these stories only really gained traction after the TRC issued its report in 2015” and then came to full media attention following the 2021 Kamloops announcement.

Philip Horgan, president and general counsel of the Catholic Civil Rights League, told the Register that having spoken to one of the lawyers involved in the case, he is informed that, “the expectation is that the ruling from late April (oral dismissal of the Archdiocese/Oblate motion to dismiss), is likely to be appealed de novo, i.e. to be argued over again at a higher court.”

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