A group of Métis survivors continue to battle the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada for compensation from their time as students at the historical Île-à-la-Crosse Residential School.
The Île-à-la-Crosse Survivors Committee announced Tuesday it had filed a proposed class-action lawsuit, which still needs to be certified, on Dec. 27 with the Court of King’s Bench in Saskatchewan.
It is the second time the group is taking legal action after Métis and non-status First Nations people were excluded from the multi-billion dollar Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) in 2005 and McLean Federal Indian Day Schools Class Action settlement in 2019.
“Île-à-la-Crosse is the second-oldest community in western Canada,” said Michelle LeClair, vice-president of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan (MNS), which is funding the lawsuit.
“Not long after the community started the (Catholic) church moved in.”
Île-à-la-Crosse Mission or Boarding School
The school – sometimes called the Île-à-la-Crosse Mission School or Boarding School – was one of the oldest residential schools in Canada operating from 1860 to 1976. Approximately 1,500, mostly Métis students from across northern Saskatchewan were sent to the school.
Only a few hundred survivors remain, reporters were told, ranging in age from their 50s to their 70s.
IRSSA, which expired in 2012, only compensated status First Nations and Inuit survivors for residential school abuses.
Yet “we suffered the same trauma…,” said Louis Gardiner, who was forced to attend the school in the community 685 km north of Saskatoon from 1961-1969.
“The agenda was to take the culture out of the child.”
A spokesperson for Saskatchewan Justice declined to comment as the lawsuit is before the courts.
The Gardiner v Canada lawsuit includes all day school and residential students whether they are Métis or First Nations.
“This proposed class action against the governments of Canada and Saskatchewan relates to the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school, which was excluded from previous residential school class action settlements,” states representative law firm Waddell Phillips of Toronto on its website.
“The plaintiffs are suing for damages on behalf of all school survivors and their family members.”
In the meantime, a 2005 lawsuit filed for survivors by the Merchant Law Group has fizzled.
Merchant Law Group
“Over the last 17 years, that lawsuit has been stalled and nothing has been done to help survivors – many of whom have died during this long and unnecessary delay,” said Waddell in its online post.
“…Almost all of the surviving plaintiffs from the Merchant Law Group lawsuit have fired Merchant Law Group and hired our firm.”
Waddell lawyer Tina Yang told the news conference a stay will be entered in court to stop the Merchant class action and make Gardiner the only lawsuit for Île-à-la-Crosse.
Merchant Law Group did not immediately respond to APTN’s request for comment.
The federal government said in an emailed statement to APTN it was waiting for the competing lawsuits to be worked out.
“We are hopeful that counsel for the two competing claims will be able to resolve which law firm will represent the plaintiffs expeditiously,” said Nicolas Moquin, as spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.
Meanwhile, in 2019, the Ile-a-la-Crosse Survivors’ Committee, the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding “to share information and explore potential options that could inform resolution of this litigation,” added Moquin. “The parties also committed to taking steps to encourage the Province of Saskatchewan to participate in this process.”
The survivors’ group said Tuesday it was still waiting. And, it said it hoped that filing the lawsuit would bring provincial and federal politicans to the table.
“As the mayor of Île-à-la-Crosse, I’ve always known that we all have a ethical, moral responsibility to settle the claims of the Métis residential school system in this country,” said Duane Favell, a survivor of Île-à-la-Crosse.
Favell said the school was being operated by the federal government for about 100 years before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905 and inherited the residential school system.
“They continued to run the residential school the way it was run prior to 1905.”
Yet attempts to add the school to the lists of residential and day schools covered under settlement agreements have failed.
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