Ottawa antes $1.7B for school claims
Friday, December 20, 2002
REGINA -- The federal government has earmarked $1.7 billion to settle up to
18,000 native residential school lawsuits over seven years. Public Works
Minister Ralph Goodale, who is charged with resolving mounting residential
school claims, made the announcement Friday.
"Time is running out for the elderly claimants and those in ill health," he
said. "We need a system that does not clog the courts nor spend all the money on
lawyers." More than 12,000 former students have sued Ottawa and the four
churches that ran the government-owned schools for physical, sexual and cultural
More claims arise every day and it's believed that many more lawsuits are still
At current rates of settlement, the cases would languish in court for more than
50 years and run up legal bills of over $2
billion, Goodale said.
He outlined what he called an alternative framework to speed settlements by
moving them out of court and into hearings before qualified adjudicators,
perhaps retired judges.
The plan is controversial.
Settlements for victims would follow an established grid of offences.
Smaller payments for relatively minor assaults would increase to $100,000 or
more for the most serious physical and sexual abuse.
Ottawa would pay 70 per cent of validated claims which, by its estimates, would
cost about $1 billion.
Another $736 million would be go for costs and health support for victims, along
with the expense of validating claims.
Victims would have to look to the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian
Churches for the other 30 per cent of the settlement.
The Anglican and Presbyterian Churches have already struck preliminary deals
with Ottawa that would see their share of payments capped at $25 million and
$2.1 million respectively.
Talks have stalled with Catholic church groups, named in more than 70 per cent
of cases. Negotiations will soon resume with the United Church, Goodale said
Ottawa has so far refused to compensate for loss of languages and culture
claimed by former students who say they were viciously beaten for speaking their
native tongue. No Canadian judge has ever awarded damages on that basis.
Moreover, plaintiffs who settle out of court through the faster process would
have to sign away their right to sue later.
The waiver would apply not just to physical and sexual claims, but to language
and cultural damage as well.
Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announced Thursday $172 million over 10 years for
programs to enhance native languages erased in residential schools.
The government launched its now defunct residential-schools policy in the late
19th century to "christianize and civilize" native children.
Of the 130 church-run schools - most were closed by the mid- 1970s - about 100
are named in lawsuits.
While many former students cite the benefits of a residential school education,
others describe regular beatings for speaking their language. Many students lost
fluency or were later reluctant to teach native languages to their children.
The federal government officially apologized four years ago for abuse it
conceded was widespread in the schools. That unleashed a flood of litigation.
© Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press