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Courts OK $4B residential schools payout

80,000 former students to start receiving average $24,000 next summer


Janice Tibbetts

CanWest News Service

Saturday, December 16, 2006


OTTAWA - A historic deal worth about $4 billion for former Indian residential school students was given a final seal of approval Friday by courts across Canada, ending years of litigation and paving the way for cheques to start flowing next summer.

About 80,000 former students of the defunct schools, which is believed to be all living survivors, should receive $24,000 on average, based on the amount of time they lived in the schools.

Up to $1.9 billion will go to all survivors in "common experience payments" of $10,000 per student for the first year he or she attended a school, plus $3,000 for every subsequent year.

Those who suffered sexual abuse or serious physical abuse or psychological damage are eligible for additional payments ranging from $5,000 to $275,000.

Phil Fontaine, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, predicted the "vast majority" of former students will ratify the deal within a six-month deadline, putting an end to more than 15,000 lawsuits filed against the government.

"The settlement agreement represents our future as much as it speaks to the past in our communities," said Fontaine, who attended a residential school in Manitoba.

"We have in this agreement recognition that harm was done to our people and that those who harmed our people are prepared to accept their responsibility."

Judge Warren Winkler of Ontario Superior Court, describing residential schools as a "seriously flawed failure," said the deal is "fair, reasonable and in the best interests" of those involved.

Judges in six other provinces and territories -- British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Yukon -- also approved the deal, and the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have yet to release decisions.

Atlantic Canada was not involved in the court approval process due to the virtual absence of residential schools. One in Nova Scotia was included in the Ontario arm of the deal.

The United, Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic churches, which operated the government-sponsored schools, are expected to pitch in about $100 million toward the settlement.

The deal, which at the time was described as "historic and unprecedented" when it was announced last November, followed intense negotiations between the federal government, the churches, former students and the Assembly of First Nations.

The deal also includes an additional $125 million towards a healing fund, $60 million for a truth and reconciliation process so survivors can tell their stories, and $20 million for commemorative projects. Another $100 million will be paid out in legal fees.

The government, in recognition that about 1,000 former residential school students are dying annually, has already handed out $76 million to 9,500 recipients over age 65, according to the website of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada.

About 130 schools operated across the country until the last one was shut down in 1996.

As of last week, the government had already settled more than 3,000 claims as a result of litigation, paying out $114 million in settlements -- some of them ordered by the courts and others reached in out-of-court settlements.

© The Edmonton Journal 2006