Original URL:  http://www.canada.com/national/story.asp?id=92A0B1C8-215E-4875-AD12-B935EB0A3AB1

Ottawa antes $1.7B for school claims
Canadian Press
Friday, December 20, 2002

REGINA -- The federal government has earmarked $1.7 billion to settle up to 18,000 native residential school lawsuits over seven years. Public Works Minister Ralph Goodale, who is charged with resolving mounting residential school claims, made the announcement Friday.

"Time is running out for the elderly claimants and those in ill health," he said. "We need a system that does not clog the courts nor spend all the money on lawyers." More than 12,000 former students have sued Ottawa and the four churches that ran the government-owned schools for physical, sexual and cultural abuse.

More claims arise every day and it's believed that many more lawsuits are still to come.

At current rates of settlement, the cases would languish in court for more than 50 years and run up legal bills of over $2
billion, Goodale said.

He outlined what he called an alternative framework to speed settlements by moving them out of court and into hearings before qualified adjudicators, perhaps retired judges.

The plan is controversial.

Settlements for victims would follow an established grid of offences.

Smaller payments for relatively minor assaults would increase to $100,000 or more for the most serious physical and sexual abuse.

Ottawa would pay 70 per cent of validated claims which, by its estimates, would cost about $1 billion.

Another $736 million would be go for costs and health support for victims, along with the expense of validating claims.

Victims would have to look to the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian Churches for the other 30 per cent of the settlement.

The Anglican and Presbyterian Churches have already struck preliminary deals with Ottawa that would see their share of payments capped at $25 million and $2.1 million respectively.

Talks have stalled with Catholic church groups, named in more than 70 per cent of cases. Negotiations will soon resume with the United Church, Goodale said last week.

Ottawa has so far refused to compensate for loss of languages and culture claimed by former students who say they were viciously beaten for speaking their native tongue. No Canadian judge has ever awarded damages on that basis.

Moreover, plaintiffs who settle out of court through the faster process would have to sign away their right to sue later.

The waiver would apply not just to physical and sexual claims, but to language and cultural damage as well.

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announced Thursday $172 million over 10 years for programs to enhance native languages erased in residential schools.

The government launched its now defunct residential-schools policy in the late 19th century to "christianize and civilize" native children.

Of the 130 church-run schools - most were closed by the mid- 1970s - about 100 are named in lawsuits.

While many former students cite the benefits of a residential school education, others describe regular beatings for speaking their language. Many students lost fluency or were later reluctant to teach native languages to their children.

The federal government officially apologized four years ago for abuse it conceded was widespread in the schools. That unleashed a flood of litigation.

Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press


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