Proposed class-action lawsuit aims to compensate children of residential school survivors

Lawyer feels it’s time to seek redress for what Indigenous leaders refer to as the ongoing effects of inter-generational trauma.

residential school

Matthew Brandon (centre) is flanked by his guardians, Chris Gardiner and Shannon Berard-Gardiner. Photo: Submitted

A new class-action lawsuit is being proposed to compensate children of residential school survivors for inter-generational trauma, APTN News has learned.

Saskatchewan lawyer Tony Merchant filed the statement of claim in Federal Court Wednesday.

The claim still needs to be authorized by a judge to proceed, which could take months and even years.

But Merchant feels it’s time to seek redress for what Indigenous leaders refer to as the ongoing effects of inter-generational trauma.

“Everyone in the leadership, people on and off reserves, First Nations people everywhere in Canada and even people in the government of Canada, recognize the inter-generational harm done by residential schools,” Merchant told APTN in a statement.

“…People talk about it. I want to do something about it. Help is needed for the people but also for the system and services which are just as manifestly impacted.”

Merchant, who runs Merchant Law in Regina, says he’s been working on the claim for about two years on behalf of Matthew Brandon, a First Nations man born on the Waywayseecappo Ojibwe Nation in Manitoba.

According to the claim, Brandon suffered a debilitating brain injury as a young boy after being physically abused by his father, a residential school survivor and member of Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan.

That left his mother, also a residential school survivor, unable to care for him, the claim says, and Brandon was apprehended by social workers to become a ward of the Saskatchewan government and grow up in foster care.

He is now 32 and still living with guardians, Chris Gardiner and Shannon Berard-Gardiner.

“Matthew Brandon carries (and) embodies the harm that broke his parents and his people,” Gardiner said in a statement. “He is the full manifestation of these harms and as such accounting for these harms is not only required, it is necessary.”

Watch the APTN Investigates documentary For the Love of Matty

Canada forced an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children to attend 130 residential schools between 1880 and 1996. The schools – funded by the federal government and run by churches – disrupted families and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous Peoples.

Some of those problems were addressed by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, where the government paid survivors approximately $3 billion in compensation for physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The settlement also established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to chronicle survivors’ stories and experiences, and kickstart a national reconciliation process with Indigenous Peoples.

Merchant says the courts, Indigenous leaders and the media regularly refer to the legacy of residential schools and the effects on generations of Indigenous Peoples. He estimated the financial damages would result in billions of dollars.

“I see the end of this as money for the people individually, but also forcing the government into specific programs with input from the leaders,” Merchant said in a telephone interview.

“I’m really trying to use the court where talking doesn’t seem to have gotten anywhere.”

Class-action lawsuit

Merchant Law was instrumental in the class-action lawsuit against Canada that resulted in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

Survivors gave up their right to sue Canada individually in exchange for accepting compensation, but Merchant argues their ancestors did not.

“You do a wrong to people in residential school, of course you know that you’re going to impact them,” he said in an interview. “But it’s also forseeable – you should have known – that you would affect their families and their communities and their children.

“I think there’s a very strong case.”

Merchant alleges in the claim that residential schools taught parents like Brandon’s “parenting, supervision, and violence were synonymous” and something the government and churches should have known.

“The wrongs to which Matthew Brandon was subjected were a foreseeable consequence of the psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, visited upon his parents in Residential Schools which Matthew Brandon has in common with all Members of the Class whose parents were similarly abused,” the claim further alleges.

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