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Canada’s top court dismisses federal Indian day school survivor’s appeal

May 30, 2024

Case pitted day school survivors against Ottawa, Gowling and Deloitte

Jessie Waldron, a survivor of the Indian day school system who has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to step in because she says the federal government, the claims administrator and the law firm that struck the 2019 settlement agreement on behalf of survivors have failed to represent their best interests. 
Jessie Waldron, a survivor of the Indian day school system, asked the Supreme Court of Canada to reopen the day school settlement on behalf of other survivors who had problems obtaining their full compensation.(Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed a request from a federal Indian day school survivor to appeal a lower court ruling related to a multi-billion dollar settlement agreement she said left survivors like her shortchanged and retraumatized.

Jessie Waldron, who attended the Waterhen Lake Indian Day School in northern Saskatchewan during the 1960s and 1970s, asked the top court for the right to amend her compensation claim with additional evidence of abuse.

The Cree day school survivor said she couldn’t access legal assistance from Gowling WLG, the law firm hired to represent survivors in the $1.47-billion settlement agreement approved by the Federal Court in 2019 following a class-action lawsuit by day school survivors.

Waldron said she filed for the minimum $10,000 in compensation because she could never get through a legal hotline set up to help survivors.

She said the Supreme Court of Canada’s dismissal dealt a blow to all day school survivors.

“I’m extremely disappointed by the outcome of their decision,” Waldron told CBC News.

“I’m really feeling heartbroken because it was just not only for myself, but for others that were not given the professional help that they required at the time of their claims.”

Hundreds of other survivors reported filing for the lowest category of compensation because they couldn’t understand the compensation application and get advice on how to apply for the higher levels.

Day school survivor appeals settlement, calls process retraumatizing

WATCH | Day school survivors asks high court to intervene in multibillion-dollar settlement agreement: 3 months ago, Duration 2:46

An Indian day school survivor is appealing a multi-billion settlement with the federal government saying the process was retraumatizing.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Waldron said that at one point, she drove 10 hours from her home in Grand Prairie, Alta. to Waterhen Lake, Sask. for a scheduled community visit with lawyers from Gowling. When she arrived, she said, she found out the meeting had been cancelled.

After hearing from survivors who hired their own lawyers, Waldron hired outside legal counsel to resubmit her claim. It was refused by the claims administrator Deloitte.

Calls for clarity on settlement agreements

Survivors were eligible for five levels of compensation, ranging from $10,000 for verbal and physical abuse (Level 1) to $200,000 for repeated sexual abuse. Each level of claim required more detail and corroborative evidence.

The federal government set aside $1.27 billion for Level 1 claims — the lowest amount — and agreed to pay all higher levels of compensation awards. The government also subsidized a $200 million legacy fund to support wellness and cultural projects for survivors.

Out of 186,912 claims filed, 130,905 were for Level 1 abuse claims, 54,494 were for levels two to five and 1,513 were unspecified, according to a May 7 update from Deloitte.

An additional 12,293 claims are still being processed, while 16,649 need more information and 5,675 have been deemed ineligible.

Waldron turned to the high court on behalf of day school survivors after she fought and lost to the federal government before the Federal Court in 2021 and Federal Court of Appeal in January 2024.

Her lawyers argued there should be flexibility built into class actions involving people who were abused as children. They said the disproportionate number of level one claims should have raised red flags.

Carl Swenson, Waldron’s Saskatoon-based lawyer, said he’s worried the top court’s dismissal will lead to continued confusion over how to interpret and implement settlement agreements, especially those concerning Indigenous survivors of abuse.

“There isn’t enough detail given … We need that in the very near future, or things like this are going to keep happening to survivors,” Swenson said.

“They will check the wrong box not fully understanding the form and there will be no remedy for them.” 

Ivstitia (Justice) guards the entrance of the Supreme Court of Canada as the Peace tower is seen in the background in this file photo.
The Supreme Court of Canada did not issue any reasons for dismissing Jessie Waldron’s case, which is its standard practice. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Day school survivors were shut out of the $1.9-billion Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement brokered in 2006.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attended residential schools, while approximately 200,000 were forced to attend nearly 700 federally operated day schools for more than a century.

Unlike residential school survivors, day school students remained in their communities and went home in the evenings, but many of them suffered similar abuse and faced cultural assimilation.

The 2019 settlement agreement was supposed to achieve long-awaited justice, but Swenson said it didn’t treat all day school survivors equally.

“By the Supreme Court of Canada turning their backs on that major issue, they’ve sent a clear message that they have more important things to do than worry about [survivors],” Swenson said. “I’m very disappointed.”

Health support services for survivors and others impacted by the federal day school system can be found here.

Crisis intervention services are available through the Hope for Wellness Help Line, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the toll-free line 1-855-242-3310 or online chat.


Olivia Stefanovich, Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on X at @CBCOlivia. Reach out confidentially: