Saturday, December 16, 2006
been dubbed the largest and most complicated class-action settlement in
Canadian history has been settled in favour of the thousands of abused
former students of Canada's controversial aboriginal residential school
decade-old dispute with the federal government largely came to an end
yesterday after judges in six provinces and Yukon gave the settlement their
stamp of approval, leaving Nunavut and the Northwest Territories as the
only jurisdictions left to approve the deal.
"I think that
people are very happy that the courts have unanimously endorsed the
settlement as fair and reasonable," said Jon Faulds, an Alberta lawyer
who is part of a national consortium of lawyers representing the victims.
"It's the first
time in Canadian history that so many courts have been involved in the
approval of a class-action settlement. It's an enormous challenge and I
think, apart from anything else, it should be hats off to the courts for
having found a way to make this work."
While there are about
10,500 individual cases before the courts and about 3,000 more in a
government alternative dispute-resolution program, there's an estimated
80,000 people in total who are entitled to benefits.
The settlement includes
a "common experience" payment of, on average, $24,000, which will
be available to all former students who were taken away from their families
and sent to various institutions across the country.
The estimated 12,000 to
20,000 people who suffered physical and sexual abuse will be eligible for
an additional $5,000 to $275,000 each and could get even more if they can
show a loss of income.
While all the judges
approved the basic provisions of the settlement, some identified a variety
of "administrative wrinkles" that will need to be ironed out
before the cash begins to flow.
"They are mostly
about making sure the court has adequate powers to supervise the settlement
as it's being implemented," Mr. Faulds said. "The courts want to
make sure that adequate resources are devoted to the process to make sure
that all of the claims are processed very quickly."
As with any
class-action lawsuit, there's a two-month window for named parties to
appeal the court judgment. Toronto lawyer Craig Brown said none are
expected in this case.
"We believe that
compensation for the wrongs committed in the Indian residential school
system will start to flow in the middle of next year," Mr. Brown said.
"And that's great, great news for everybody."
Mr. Brown said judges
in the territories need a bit more time to write up their decisions because
of the travelling they're required to do in their daily work. They're
likely to complete their judgments over the holidays and submit them to the
court in early January.
The deal also includes
$125-million for the aboriginal healing fund, $60-million for a
truth-and-reconciliation process to document the history and legacy of
government-run Indian residential schools and $20-million for commemorative
The most controversial
aspect of the settlement is an estimated $100-million set aside for legal
When all is said and
done, it is expected the federal government will have spent as much as
$5-billion in restitution.