Story Of Aboriginal Abuse Claims Is Not Over

By Elaine Bright | June 11, 2014

Elaine Bright – Pace Personal Injury Lawyer in Kenora: Residential school claims are coming to a conclusion. Will that be the end of abuse claims by aboriginal people in Canada? Definitely not.

Class actions have started across Canada seeking compensation for abuses that took place at “day schools” – schools on reserves that were run by the federal government. Other actions have been commenced seeking compensation for victims of the “Sixties Scoop.” During this period, Canadian governments took many children from native families and placed them with non-aboriginal families, where the children grew up without access to their native language and culture.Individual claims also continue to be made in cases of severe abuse that took place in day schools, foster care, and similar settings.

Compensation for Day School Victims

Well-known lawyer Joan Jack filed a national class action in 2009 seeking compensation for day school students from across Canada for their treatment.Jack points out that native children who attended day schools suffered much the same treatment as students who attended residential schools: being forced not to use their native language, and being taught that their culture and way of life were inferior to European-Canadian language and culture. This class action has more than 11,000 people signed up to be part of the proceedings.

Aboriginal people in Canada often ask – how long will it take? Non-aboriginal Canadians sometimes ask – haven’t we paid enough? 

Other day school class actions are under way across Canada. The usual steps involved in such actions are: finding representative members of the proposed class, filing the action, and asking a court to certify the action. A certification decision may be appealed through various levels of court. Once certification is finalized, negotiations usually take place to settle the action, and eventually class members are paid.The whole process can take many years. In the case of the Residential School Settlement Agreement, numerous class actions were filed, and several were certified, before the federal government agreed to negotiate a settlement.

A class action against the government of Canada on behalf of native children taken from their homes in Ontario during the Sixties Scoop was certified conditionally in 2010. The government appealed and the case was sent for a new certification hearing. Once again, the action was certified – this time unconditionally – and once again, an appeal was launched.

How Long Do Class Action Suits Take?

Aboriginal people in Canada often ask – how long will it take? Is the government hoping more people will die so that they do not have to pay as much compensation? The answer is that class actions always take a long time. There is no reason to assume that the government is doing anything other than following the law and taking the steps permitted by the law to defend itself against these lawsuits.

Non-aboriginal Canadians sometimes ask – haven’t we paid enough? The answer I give is this: if I had been taught in school over many years that my language, culture and way of life were inferior; or if I had been taken from my home as a young child and placed in a completely foreign environment, I would want any compensation I could get for the harm those actions caused. Just because Canada has paid for causing other harms does not affect our obligation to pay further compensation that we owe. As a taxpayer, I want our government to pay our debts.

The Residential School Settlement Agreement was a major development in reconciling aboriginal and non-aboriginal relations in Canada. There is still a long road ahead.

Elaine Bright is a lawyer with Pace Law Firm. She handles cases in Kenora and throughout Northwestern Ontario. Pace’s personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims in Toronto and throughout Ontario since 1980.