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Witness describes physical, sexual abuse at residential schools lawsuit

An Inuit man broke down sobbing and wailing on the witness stand this morning at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s as he recounted physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the residential school in Northwest River, Labrador.

Toby Obed described being beaten with a strap for speaking Inukitut, and a worker at the school forcing two older children to have sex, and younger students being made to watch.

“I didn’t want to watch,” he said, sobbing.

The testimony Monday morning is part of a class-action lawsuit which represents more than 1,000 survivors of five residential schools in this province who were not included in a federal settlement in 2007 for survivors in other parts of Canada.

Mediation this summer failed, due to lack of instruction by provincial and federal governments.

Obed, the first witness to be called, recounted being taken from his family and taken to the school in Northwest River. While there, he said he was routinely strapped and beaten with willow.

He also described being sexually abused by an older boy.

Over the course of roughly an hour’s testimony in the morning, there were several pauses when Obed simply sat on the witness stand crying.

“Did you feel loved while you were there?” lawyer Allan Regel, representing the plaintiffs, asked at one point.

“No, never,” Obed replied.

Obed is the first witness for the plaintiffs to give evidence direct about what happened in the Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools. There are more witnesses expected to be called in the coming weeks.

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