Newfoundland and Labrador residential school claimants want apology – CP

by ahnationtalk on July 18, 2016341 Views

Source: The Canadian Press
Jul 16, 2016

By Sue Bailey


ST. JOHN’S, N.L. _ An apology from the prime minister is more important to many former residential school students in Newfoundland and Labrador than compensation payments, says one claimant.

Danny Pottle said Saturday that such recognition of past wrongs from Justin Trudeau would clear the way for true healing and reconciliation.

“I think those experiences have to be validated by Prime Minister Trudeau on behalf of everybody in Canada,” he said in an interview.

“To me, that’s the most important thing, and that’s what other people have told me all along. If nothing else comes of it, then so be it. That apology is first and foremost.”

The former resident of a Labrador school dormitory in North West River was in St. John’s as lawyers explained details of a proposed $50-million settlement available to those who attended schools in the province. If approved by a judge, it would end a 10-year legal fight.

The meeting Saturday was attended by about 15 people. It was one of 14 such gatherings across the province with others planned in Halifax and Moncton to inform claimants of their rights.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Cooper said he expects Trudeau will apologize at some point but details are not confirmed.

“It’s probably more important than the $50 million, quite frankly,” he said in an interview.

Words of remorse would be especially meaningful for claimants in Newfoundland and Labrador, Cooper added.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper excluded the province’s former residential schools from a national apology in 2008 and related compensation package.

His Conservative government argued they weren’t “akin” to now defunct institutions under the federal Indian Act that were the subject of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

“They were expressly excluded from the apology,” Cooper said of between 800 to 1,000 class-action members.

“It really is a double dagger to the heart.”

Cooper said the Trudeau Liberals upon taking power last fall focused on rebuilding Indigenous relationships. Last spring, the federal government offered to settle the almost decade-long legal fight.

Aboriginal students who attended the schools after the province joined Confederation in 1949 would be eligible for compensation so long as they were alive as of Nov. 23, 2006 _ one year before litigation began. The estates of those who have died since the 2006 cutoff could apply, Cooper said.

Students who lived in school residences for less than five years would be eligible for $15,000 in general compensation, while those who lived there five years or more would be eligible for $20,000. Approval would be based on a streamlined, trust-based application process overseen by a judge, Cooper said.

One in 10 applications will be randomly audited, he added, noting that attendance records are often scant.

Compensation for sexual or significant physical abuse could be up to $200,000 and must be based on sworn testimony.

About 120 class members died waiting for a resolution.

The single objection raised during well attended meetings in Labrador was that the $20,000 general compensation amount doesn’t increase to reflect years spent at the schools, Cooper said. They were located in North West River, Cartwright, Nain and Makkovik _ all in Labrador _ and St. Anthony, in northern Newfoundland.

The International Grenfell Association ran three of the schools, while the German-based Moravian missionaries ran the other two.

“People that were in the residences for an extremely long period of time won’t be getting a substantial payment more than people that were there for five or six years,” Cooper said. “And that’s a valid concern. But it’s one of the decisions you have to make when you’re trying to distribute fairly a set sum of money.”

Lawyers from three law firms who worked on nine applications over the last decade are asking for one-third of the $50 million.

Pottle said to applause at the meeting that it’s a fair sum.

Ottawa will also contribute an undetermined amount for healing programs to be guided by aboriginal leaders, and for commemoration.

The settlement did not come, however, before 29 aboriginal claimants were forced last fall to become the only former students in the country to testify in open court about alleged sexual and physical abuse, broken family ties and lost languages.

“To say people have truly survived the experience I think is a misnomer,” Pottle said. “People are still living that experience and they’re still traumatized.

“But hopefully this settlement, the validation and the recognition of their experience, will put them in a place where they can move on and start to rebuild their lives. That’s all we’ve ever hoped for.”

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