Indigenous groups urge Ottawa to extend deadline for day school settlement

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Indigenous groups are urging Ottawa to extend the deadline for settling Federal Indian Day Schools.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

With a crucial deadline approaching, a coalition of Indigenous groups is urging Ottawa and one of Canada’s largest law firms to reopen the federal settlement of Indian Day Schools so that eligible former students are not excluded.

The day school system operated from the 1860s until 2000, when the last school was closed or transferred to the community. Unlike boarding school students, the approximately 200,000 students who attended day schools returned home each evening. Both systems suppressed native languages ​​and culture, had religious affiliations with various churches, and were sites of frequent physical and sexual abuse.

Former day school students have until July 13 to seek compensation as part of the $1.47 billion settlement. Indigenous leaders say thousands of people will be left behind unless the deadline is extended by at least a year.

“There are thousands of survivors who still haven’t agreed to apply,” said Travis Boissoneau, deputy chief of the Huron Region Grand Council for the Anishnabek Nation, a political advocacy group of 39 First Nations. of Ontario. “And now the clock is ticking. The federal government and class attorneys are ignoring calls for an extension of the deadline. »

For their part, Ottawa and the class law firm representing former day school students, Gowlings WLC, say they are aware of the concerns. They point out that the settlement includes a six-month extension of time. It requires anyone making requests beyond July 13 to submit an extension request form.

“We will continue to monitor and review the number of claims filed through July 13, 2022, as well as the number of extension forms and claim forms filed during the extension period,” said Cam Cameron, senior counsel. of Gowlings on the settlement, in a statement.

Any further extensions, he said, would require Ottawa’s consent and Federal Court approval. Around 150,000 claim forms have already been filed, exceeding actuarial estimates of the class size by around 20,000, he added.

Approved in 2019, the $1.47 billion settlement awarded abused day school students at least $10,000 each for attending one of approximately 700 federally funded day schools beginning in 1920.

The 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement excluded day school students. In 2016, Gowlings WLG launched a class action lawsuit seeking compensation. Ottawa settled in 2019.

Under the terms of the settlement, former day school students must complete and submit a 16-page grievance form available online. The degree of difficulty of the form varies depending on the level of compensation requested by the claimant.

Anyone who has been verbally or physically abused in a day school is eligible for level one compensation of $10,000 without providing supporting documentation. A single instance of kissing, fondling or physical assault causing temporary injury is a level two claim of $50,000.

Students who have suffered level five abuse – the most serious level – are entitled to $200,000. Level five is defined as repeated severe sexual assault, such as masturbation or penetration, or any sexual assault resulting in long-term disability. But level five applicants must provide a list of their abusers, medical records, and photographs, diaries or accounts from family members and friends that might support the application.

Locating all of these supporting documents at a time when pandemic restrictions were prohibiting face-to-face interactions and closing some government offices proved onerous for some.

“A lot of people are confused about the whole process,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations third vice-chief Aly Bear. “It happened during COVID, and people couldn’t get the support they needed to do app ownership. It’s quite heartbreaking.

It is possible to provide an affidavit in place of the documents, but Kelsey Anger, reconciliation lead for the Anishnabek Nations, says they are often rejected.

“I haven’t met anyone who submits a level five application with just affidavits who then receives level five [compensation],” she said. “These people are getting letters saying their claims have been assessed at level two instead and they are only eligible for $50,000.”

The Anishnabek Nation and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, released a joint statement asking for an extension. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke, the Council of Ontario Chiefs, and umbrella groups from the Prairies and Maritimes echoed this position.

The groups say they had to hire or redeploy staff just to help former students with claims. The settlement provides free legal and mental assistance, but Ms Anger said applicants would prefer local cultural support.

Ms. Anger has worked on claims with countless survivors and says many are seniors with limited access to various internet resources related to the settlement.

Countless applicants have told him that they find the compensation grid demeaning and have rejected the application outright. Still others opted for first-tier compensation to avoid reliving a traumatic childhood event. Once a claim is submitted, it cannot be changed, she said.

“If Canada is committed to truth and reconciliation, that’s the truth, that’s the truth of survivors,” said Ms. Anger. “The way to reconcile that is to start discussions and make changes before the settlement closes.”

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