Federal Court approves Indian Day Schools class action settlement

The Federal Court of Canada has approved the settlement of a class action lawsuit against the government to compensate thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who attended federally operated Indian Day Schools.

Justice Michael Phelan issued his decision Monday, finding the settlement was “fair and reasonable and in the best interests of the class as a whole.”

It offers former students a range of compensation between $10,000 and $200,000, based on abuse suffered while attending the schools. A $200 million legacy fund will also be established for wellness and healing initiatives.

Indian Day Schools operated separately from residential schools, so students were left out of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that recognized the damage inflicted by residential schools and established a $1.9 billion compensation fund.

Day schools were operated by many of the same groups that ran residential schools, however.

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attended residential schools — but even more were forced to attend the day schools across Canada, the class-action settlement said.

The class action, which was handled by the law firm Gowling WLG, was filed on behalf of former students and families of students. The federal government announced a proposed settlement offer on March 12, but it had to be approved by the Federal Court. The hearings were held in May.

The court approved all parts of the settlement, including $55 million in legal fees for Gowling WLG.

Reaction from survivors

Kenneth Deer, a day school survivor from Kahnawake, Que., said the approval is good news. Like many children who grew up in the late 1950s in his community, Deer attended the Kateri Tekakwitha School, a federally operated Indian Day School run by the Roman Catholic Church.

He said he plans on applying for compensation when the claim process opens.

“I’m not going to let the government off the hook,” said Deer.

“Even though that I think it’s not adequate. Nothing that they can offer can really repair the damage that was done, however, I look at this as a punitive thing and victims should be compensated.”

90-day opt-out period

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a statement, “The mistreatment of Indigenous children is a tragic and shameful part of Canada’s history that has had devastating effects on generations of families. Canada is deeply committed to reconciliation and healing, and will continue the important work of making amends for past wrongs.”

The minister’s office said a 90-day opt-out period and a 60-day appeal period will begin for any class members who do not agree with the terms of the settlement. Once that is complete, former day school students will be able to apply for compensation.

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