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Mohawk Mothers: Cadaver dogs find evidence

Mohawk Mother Kahentinetha stands with Kanehsata’kehró:non Dallas Karonhia'nó:ron Canady-Binette, who was a cultural monitor on the site when three cadaver dogs alerted to the scent of human remains at the former Royal Victoria Hospital site. Eve Cable Eastern Door

In a Quebec Superior Court case management hearing yesterday, the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers) shared the news that three different cadaver dogs have alerted to evidence of human remains at the Hersey Pavilion of the Royal Victoria Hospital currently being worked on by McGill University and other stakeholders. 

“At our hearing on October 27, the defendants reported that the site of the Hersey Pavilion was examined and that there were no signs of evidence of remains,” Kwetiio told the court. “On June 18, the historic human remains detection dog team executed techniques under Section 16 of the rectified Settlement Agreement. And that resulted in the discovery of (the scent of) remains.”

The session saw the Societe quebecoise des infrastructures (SQI), Royal Victoria Hospital, McGill University, McGill University Health Center (MUHC), the city of Montreal, the Attorney General of Quebec, and the Attorney General of Canada hear the results of a report from Kim Kooper, a handler at the Ottawa Valley Search and Rescue Dog Association (OVSARDA).

Cooper was the team manager on the June 18 search, where three highly-trained OVSARDA dogs alerted to the scent of human remains. Cooper was joined on the search by Kanehsata’kehró:non Dallas Karonhia’nó:ron Canady-Binette, who is one of two cultural monitors appointed by the Kahnistensera to oversee all archaeological work at the site.

“Each dog had a response to signal if they had found something, and of course what they’re trained to find is decaying human remains,” said Canady-Binette. He explained that all three dogs alerted to the exact same spot, an area of the pavilion that used to be a nurse’s dormitory. 

“They’re trained in cemeteries, and my understanding is that their scent detection can go up to six feet underground, and the scent detection is accurate within a six to 10-foot radius. So while they all signalled in the same spot, the area of interest could potentially be inside of one of the buildings or further out.”

According to the report provided by the OVSARDA, three teams were used in the search. Each dog and handler entered the search “blind,” meaning without seeing any of the other dogs’ searches. This meant that they had no knowledge of another team’s results before searching themselves.

Each dog alerted within two metres of one another, which the report interprets as strong evidence.

“Given that three separate dog teams indicated the same location independently…we are confident that the odour of human remains is in this area,” the report said. 

Discussions also focused on security of the site, which is currently managed by McGill University. 

Kwetiio shared concerns that film trailers had been parked near the site, and members of the public had posted videos online visiting the pool, located inside the fence that is supposed to be secured by McGill and the SQI. She also said the panel of independent archaeologists, selected by the Mothers, shared her concerns about the security.

“There’s several comments on the videos of people saying that they want to go back and visit the site. The panel reported looting of archaeological artifacts. The general public is accessing the site freely,” Kwetiio said. “Our protocols regarding behaviours when working with our ancestors are not being respected.”

Kwetiio said that they had asked McGill to employ a Kahnawake-based security firm in place of their own security, but that the university had refused, telling them that they would impose more of their own security. She also noted that McGill had told the media that they would repair the front fence by the pool, but when she visited weeks after that promise, it was still not repaired.

McGill’s lawyer, Doug Mitchell, responded by arguing that the university had provided adequate security at the site in fulfilment of the revised Settlement Agreement previously reached in April. 

Though the Mothers argued that justice Gregory Moore, who has been presiding over the case since it was opened, should replace the security with an Indigenous team, Mitchell argued that nobody, including Moore, could decide that the security is “inadequate,” and appeared to criticize the Mothers for a perceived inconsistency in their desire for court involvement in the case.

“In our view, frankly, it’s a little disappointing to hear at one point that it’s not for the court to do, and then the first time that there is something discovered, the plaintiff and the special interlocutor immediately rush to the court,” Mitchell said. “With respect, judge, you’re not equipped to determine, particularly without evidence, whether the security put in place by McGill and the SQI is adequate or not.”

Other concerns included a lack of adequate communication between the defendants and the Mothers and concerns over immensely long wait times for archival requests to be fulfilled. Justice Moore explained that there were three different resources that the Kahnistensera can choose from going forward.

The first would be to expand the advisory panel (which currently includes three archaeologists) to include individuals with expertise in site security; to begin a mediation process where there could be a potential modification of the agreed upon settlement agreement; or to begin a litigation again against the defendants. 

Discussions in court concluded that the Kahnistensera will have until July 14 to provide a notice of their decision. 

This article was originally published in print on Friday, June 30, in issue 32.26 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.