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Justice (25-42)

Opposition parties call for the day school settlement agreement to be reopened

March 11, 2024

NDP MPs, Green Party deputy leader want day school survivors to be able to resubmit their claims

Lori Idlout, NDP MP for Nunavut, personally knows the challenges facing day school survivors who apply for compensation.
Lori Idlout, NDP MP for Nunavut, said she hopes the Supreme Court of Canada hears an appeal by a day school survivor who wants to resubmit her claim. (Canadian Press/Dustin Patar)

CBC News: The federal NDP and the Green Party are urging Ottawa to reopen the multi-billion-dollar federal Indian day school settlement agreement.

The opposition lawmakers issued the call in response to a CBC News report about day school survivors who say they were re-traumatized by the compensation process and shortchanged.

“I know that what they’re saying is completely true,” said Lori Idlout, NDP MP for Nunavut.

“There are many more [survivors] that we need to make sure are getting the justice they deserve, the compensation …  I’m sure that there have been so many more that just gave up because of how arduous the whole process is.”

WATCH | Issues facing day school compensation

Problems with application form

3 days ago, Duration 1:01

Louise Mayo, Indian Day Coordinator for Kanien’kehá:ka, explains why many day school survivors applied for the lowest level of compensation when they could’ve been entitled to much more.

Click on the following link to view the video:

The settlement agreement is facing a challenge before the Supreme Court of Canada from a Cree survivor of a northern Saskatchewan day school who wants to resubmit her claim.

Jessie Waldron, who attended the Waterhen Lake Indian Day School in the 1960s and 1970s, told CBC News she couldn’t reach the claims administrator Deloitte for help, or the law firm Gowling WLG, which was hired to represent survivors in a class action lawsuit against Ottawa.

Both firms were paid tens of millions of dollars by the federal government under the settlement agreement to help survivors fill out their claims.

“Survivors shouldn’t have to go back to the courts to get access to money that’s been set aside for them,” said Jonathan Pedneault, deputy leader of the Green Party.

“The first priority certainly is to ensure that claimants have more time and have more support to fill out these claims.”

NDP MP personally affected

Pedneault said the Greens will be pushing the Liberal government in the House of Commons to reopen the compensation process. 

“Jessie Waldron has courage, so much courage, to bring to light what the challenges have been with the Indian day school compensation,” Idlout said.

She said she knows personally the difficulties faced by day school survivors because her mother, who attended the Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, applied for compensation shortly before her death. 

“My mom ended up not receiving her compensation by the time she died,” Idlout said.

Idlout said her mother Carmen Idlout had trouble accessing documentation to indicate which years she went to day school. Now, Gowling is requiring more documentation before Carmen Idlout’s children can receive their late mother’s compensation.

Idlout said her niece, who lives in Igloolik, Nunavut, needs to travel to Iqaluit to obtain the court records necessary to move forward with the process — a trip that costs thousands of dollars.

“We’re still figuring out what to do,” Idlout said.

Jonathan Pedneault, Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada, said the federal government shouldn't fight day school survivors in court.
Jonathan Pedneault, deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada, said day school survivors shouldn’t have to fight the federal government in court for compensation that was promised to them. (Canadian Press/Spencer Colby)

A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada told CBC News that Canada respects both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal decisions, which dismissed Waldron’s case. 

“Canada will continue to work collaboratively with the parties to ensure the process for the remaining claims moves forward in an efficient and timely manner,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Both Deloitte and Gowling declined CBC’s request for an interview.

Castlemain, an Indigenous advisory group co-owned by the communications firm Argyle, said class counsel cannot comment on matters before the courts.

Payout numbers distort history, survivor says

Approximately 200,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend nearly 700 federally operated day schools for more than a century.

The institutions were like residential schools, except students went home at the end of the day.

Day school survivors faced acts of abuse and cultural assimilation similar to those experienced by residential school survivors.

In 2019, the Federal Court approved a $1.47-billion settlement agreement for day school survivors. 

They could apply for five levels of compensation, ranging from $10,000 for verbal and physical abuse to $200,000 for repeated sexual abuse. Each level of claim required more detail and corroborative evidence.

So far, 150,200 claims have been paid out, at a cost of approximately $5.7 billion.

About three quarters of the claims were paid at Level 1 for $10,000 — the lowest amount of compensation — while one quarter was paid at the higher levels of compensation, according to March 4 figures from Deloitte.

Louise Mayo, a day school survivor from the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community south of Montreal, said she worries those figures misrepresent the true history of day schools.

“Your average Canadian will look at and say, ‘Well there it couldn’t have been that bad for the Indian Day School survivors,'” Mayo said. “It doesn’t give the full picture.”

Mayo helped other survivors in Kanien’kehá:ka fill out their claims. She said it could take three or four interviews to make them feel comfortable enough to share their stories and articulate their experiences in a way that would be acceptable for a compensation claim.

Mayo said most of the survivors she helped applied for Levels 3 or 4, but not everyone had help from someone like her to submit their claims.

“In the class action settlement agreement, I had hoped that they would be more sensitive, more understanding,” she said.