Ottawa shift buoys natives
school students could share receive up to $6-billion
The federal government
signalled its willingness yesterday to compensate all former students of
residential schools regardless of whether they suffered physical or sexual
abuse, in a major policy shift that could cost as much as $6-billion.
final compensation deal and actual payments are still at least a year away.
The announcement, which
is indirectly contained in a political agreement signed yesterday between
Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations, commits the federal government to a
payment scheme "along the lines" of that recommended by the AFN.
plan calls for payments to each of the estimated 87,000 surviving students at
an average cost of just under $50,000 each.
Just two months ago,
Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan adamantly
opposed lump sum payments before a Commons committee, arguing that
compensation for loss of culture was not "a recognized legal cause of
action in Canada"
and that payments without validation could raise the ire of the Auditor-General.
who is responsible for the residential schools settlement, acknowledged for
the first time yesterday that the government's current approach is "not
enough, quite clearly."
As a replacement to its
alternate dispute-resolution process, the government announced that retired
Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci has been
appointed to work with the AFN and with individuals currently before the
courts in class-action suits to devise a final settlement that would be
acceptable to all.
The government did not
indicate whether Mr. Iacobucci's recommendations
will be binding on the federal government, and his March 31, 2006, deadline
means a federal election will likely have taken place by the time he reports.
AFN National Chief Phil
Fontaine called yesterday a "truly historic day" that will allow
aboriginal Canadians to "turn the corner" and focus on the future.
"This is a moment
for the ages," he said. "We put forward a business case that was so
convincing we were able to turn everybody around, including the Deputy Prime
Although Mr. Fontaine
repeatedly said the deal commits Ottawa to "lump sum" payments,
neither Ms. McLellan nor the two other
ministers at the announcement used the phrase.
When asked about the AFN's estimate that its proposal would cost the
government between $4.3-billion and $6.1-billion over two years, Ms. McLellan said Mr. Iacobucci
would determine the amount of compensation.
affairs critic Jim Prentice said his party is cautiously optimistic about the
announcement, but added the deal itself does not resolve anything.
The Tory MP would not say
whether a Conservative government would accept the report's recommendations.
New Democrat MP Pat
Martin said he too is optimistic that lump sum compensation is on its way,
but said the announcement fell short of clearly resolving the issue and that
about 2,000 former students will die waiting for Mr. Iacobucci's
About 130 residential
schools operated in Canada
between 1840 and 1996. With an average age of 57, the number of former
students dying has been outpacing the number reaching settlements. Statistics
found more than 105,000 survivors in 1991, but only 87,500 by 2004.