Holly Moore and Brittany Guyot
Survivors are saying it was a historic day for those who attended the more than 680 institutions not recognized under any federal settlement agreement.
On Dec. 10 in a Winnipeg hotel, Abraham Parenteau, Vicki Klyne and George Munroe signed a retainer agreement with Alberta-based law firm Cooper Regel to represent their group — the Unverified Day School survivors society — in a potential class action lawsuit.
(The Unverified Day Schools survivors society met with lawyer Steve Cooper last night in Winnipeg. Photo: Josh Grummett/APTN)
The group was featured in a recent APTN Investigates documentary called Broken Circle. The institutions were excluded from other settlement agreements because they were not found to be controlled by the federal government, were run by bands or provinces, were private residences or were hospitals that taught students.
“We want the government to recognize what was done to us and honour our requests to get recognition and justice,” said the group’s president George Munroe.
He added that any class action must include claims against the various churches that operated the schools, which have largely escaped any liability in previous settlements.
“We will not forgive the people who abused us,” Munroe said, adding they are also looking for an apology and compensation from the government of Canada.
Survivors like Munroe and Parenteau allege horrific abuses at the provincially-run school in Duck Bay, including sexual assault.
(Abraham Parenteau and George Munroe look for evidence of federal funds. Photo: Cullen Crozier/APTN)
Parenteau is also calling all survivor groups in other provinces to come on board to help strengthen their action.
“I feel pretty good about it. We are on the right track,” he said, “We are just starting and hopefully we will get everything going for an apology and compensation for these people.”
Class action could be “very large”- lawyer
“I am always humbled and happy to get on a plane and go,” said lawyer Steve Cooper who flew to Winnipeg in order to sign up the group, “I suspect but do not yet know that this might be as big as some of the largest class actions that I have dealt with and that have been seen in Canada.”
(Steve Cooper is a partner with Cooper-Regel law firm. Photo: Josh Grummett/APTN)
“We are talking about almost and possibly over 700 institutions and probably every province and territory in Canada.” He said, “It is very significant.”
Cooper could not provide any details about what the potential may look like at this early stage.
Cooper Regel is the law firm co-representing a $1 billion class action lawsuit against the federal government for treatment at so-called Indian Hospitals.
His firm also negotiated the recognition and $50 million in compensation to former Newfoundland residential school students.
For Parenteau it is just the beginning of a long process of reconciliation.
“We are happy to sign an agreement with our lawyer, I guess we can say that now,” he laughed. “Hopefully we can come up with, hammer out some kind of agreement with government and put this chapter behind us. It’s just a start now.”
With files from Cullen Crozier