A federal judge reserved his decision Wednesday on approving the multi-billion-dollar Indian day school (IDS) settlement agreement.
Justice Michael Phelan listened to three days of dramatic and, at times, emotional submissions.
At one point, he twice slammed his fist on the desk when someone went over their allotted time to speak.
Indigenous lawyer Joan Jack said that flash of anger triggered her trauma as a former Indian day school student.
“I started crying at the back of the courtroom,” she told the court while speaking as an objector to the settlement Tuesday.
Jack said she filed the original $15-billion class-action lawsuit against Canada in 2008 on behalf of Spiritwind Inc., a non-profit organization of survivors based in Winnipeg.
But the leaders of Spiritwind took the case to a new firm – Gowling WLG of Ottawa – Jack said that left her broke.
“I had borrowed like half a million dollars,” she said outside court Wednesday during a rally opposing the settlement. “I cashed in my husband and I’s pension.”
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Jack hired her own lawyer to seek compensation for the time and money she spent visiting communities and building a database of survivors to establish the class.
Gowling didn’t want to give her “any money,” she told APTN News. “So that’s just bullshit.
“If this firm is going to treat me like that how are they going to treat people that don’t have eight years of university?”
Her lawyer Clint Docken argued Jack and other lawyers, including Louay Alghoul of Winnipeg, deserve some payment for their time.
“Contributions they have made to this should be dealt with,” he told Phelan, explaining the lawsuit stalled under Jack because other firms wouldn’t take it on with her.
He also said there was a “lack of political will” in the past to settle the case, something he suggested Gowling is now benefitting from.
Phelan said he needed time to review all the material but would deliver his decision as soon as possible.
Along with approving the settlement offered by Canada, the judge is being asked to sign off on legal fees of $55 million to Gowling.
There are up to 140,000 former day school students eligible for compensation. Canada is making a minimum of $1.27 billion to a maximum of $1.4 billion available for Level 1 claims, and has no financial limit for Level 2-5 claims.
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With files from Brittany Hobson