Residential School Compensation Nearing Completion

By Peter Biggs
Canadian Christianity
August 3, 2006

As Christiandenominations and the federal government continue to work on a settlement with former students of Canadian residential schools, court hearings are about to begin across the country. The first one begins in Ontario in late August.

All parties agree that widespread abuse took place in residential schools from the opening of the first school in 1879 until they ended in 1986. The residential school program was established in the belief that aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing and largely western European dominated society.

The assimilation process assumed that native children should be reprogrammed into mainstream Canadian society by adopting Christianity and speaking English or French. Students were discouraged from using their first language or practicing native traditions, indeed they were punished for doing so.

Following a long and tortuous process, a Royal Commission heard from numerous victims of abuse in 1991. Eight years later, the federal government issued an official public apology and set up an initial healing fund for victims.

An estimated 80,000 people are eligible for redress. At their height, there were 80 residential schools run by Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United Church denominations, though they were funded and overseen by the government.

Each denomination is liable for a different amount, ranging from the Presbyterian church's $2.1 million to the Catholic church's $54 million. The Anglican church agreed to a $25 million cap in 2003, but that may be reduced to around $16 million, with additional amounts for healing and reconciliation efforts.

Archdeacon Sidney Black, co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, told the Anglican Journal that, "for us as survivors of the schools, it is indeed good news, in the most spiritual expression of receiving good news."

The federal government, for its part, agreed in November 2005 to a comprehensive financial package with First Nations leaders. The agreement was also signed by the denominations that once ran the schools.

They have earmarked $1.9 billion to pay every former student a 'Common Experience Payment.' This will amount to an initial payout of $10,000, plus $3,000 for each year they attended school. Those who accept this payment will not receive any further compensation, except in cases of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse.

Potential recipients may object[] to their settlement, however, and can appear before the upcoming hearings to plead their case.

The government will also pay lawyers of former students up to $100 million in fees.


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