Courts Will Weigh Offers to Abused Native Students
Compensation by Federal Government to Residential School Students Long Overdue
By Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun [Canada]
July 17, 2006
Court hearings are set to begin across Canada as a prelude to significant cash redress for natives who went through the Indian residential school system.
The federal government has allocated at least $2 billion to right the wrongs of yesteryear, when native children were forced to attend institutions away from their families.
This extraordinary process will see the courts weigh the fairness of the government's offer to former students and give those who disagree with the settlement or who would like to comment or otherwise present their case a chance to be heard.
The redress came about as a result of mounting lawsuits over the last two decades and growing federal legal bills.
Former students have raised a litany of complaints about the residential schools, run primarily by the major Christian religious denominations. The students say that at the schools, native culture and language were often downtrodden and students subjected to severe physical abuse, some to sexual abuse.
I think this compensation is long overdue and a process to speed and put balm on this situation should have been established long ago. The one that has been adopted seems to me spendthrift and I'm not sure the money's ending up where it should -- in the hands of the victims.
Non-natives who sued the Mount Cashel Orphanage in 1989 for abuse by the Christian Brothers brothers spurred first nations to follow the same path.
Vancouver played a key role in raising public consciousness about this appalling situation when the First Canadian Conference on Residential Schools was held here in 1991.
Immediately, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate offered an apology for any role their order played.
The federal government at the time maintained it could not do much more than make sure such horrors didn't happen again. In 1993, the Anglican Church of Canada apologized and the Presbyterians followed suit.
At the same time, Ottawa began letting native bands in many areas of the country run their own schools.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples devoted an entire chapter to this festering sore in its final report in 1996 -- that was the year the last government-run school closed.
In 1998, the former federal Liberal government touted a new strategy -- Gathering Strength Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan -- which included a "Statement of Reconciliation: Learning from the Past," and an apology for the sexual and physical abuse some suffered.
I think that was a grudging acknowledgement given they were facing nearly 8,000 outstanding lawsuits, as were the major denominations.
Here we are a decade on and there's more process.
So far, Ottawa has set aside about $100 million so former students can have representation at the coming court hearings.
(As a result, reports of how assiduously some in the legal profession have been beating the bushes for clients have done nothing to add to its lustre.)
If former students don't want to be heard, they can sit back and wait for the courts to presumably approve the settlement.
Still, for the most part, most of this has been below the public radar -- that's about to change.
About 80,000 Indian residential school students and their families have been invited to attend the hearings that start in Ontario next month and in B.C. Oct. 10.
Ottawa is offering ex-students $10,000 for any one year, or part of a year, that they spent at a residential school, and $3,000 for each subsequent portion of a year. Those who suffered sexual or physical abuse are offered additional compensation ranging from $5,000 to $275,000.
Even natives who sued before and settled can come back and ask for more.
The government is also kicking in $60 million to research and document the history of the schools and the experience of the survivors.
Another $20 million is earmarked for community commemorative projects.
If you went through the system and don't like that offer, well, the government is willing to listen, let you participate at the hearings and maybe even increase your slice of the pie.
That's why you should run out, get a lawyer and prepare for the hearings.
If you haven't followed this, you will soon know all about it.
If you're a taxpayer who is going to have to foot the bill and wants to complain, I'm not so sure Ottawa is as anxious to hear from you.
CORRECTION: I incorrectly identified the B.C. Civil Liberties Association last week. Apologies.
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