Proposed settlement for day scholars of residential schools to go before judge in September

A federal court hearing will be a hybrid of virtual and in-person attendance

The former Kamloops residential school is one of the institutions attended by day scholars. Photo: APTN file


Residential school day scholars, left out of other class-action lawsuits, are another step closer to reaching their own settlement with Canada.

A federal court judge will hear arguments Sept. 7 in Vancouver to approve the proposed settlement agreement after Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett signed off on the deal in June.

This is the fourth lawsuit Canada is settling to compensate thousands of former Indigenous students forced to attend its notorious system of Indian residential schools that operated nationally for more than a century.

This proposed settlement would compensate day scholars who were forced to attend residential schools during the day – and suffered the same harms as students forced to board in the schools – but allowed to sleep in their own homes at night.

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) of 2006 compensated former residential school students (who were not allowed to return to their own homes at night) for serious physical and sexual abuse after awarding individual common experience payments of $10,000 for the first year of schooling, and $3,000 for each subsequent year.

John Kingman Phillips of Toronto is one of the lead lawyers on the day scholars settlement agreement. Photo: submitted

Another separate settlement agreement in 2019 compensated former students of federally run Indian day schools.

“This class-action [of 2021] is different from all the other ones that have gone forward,” explained lead plaintiffs’ counsel John Kingman Phillips of Waddell Phillips law firm in Toronto.

“This claim was commenced under the instruction of the Kamloops and Sechelt bands of British Columbia.”

Phillips said legal fees are being paid by the two bands in B.C. instead of on a contingency basis.

“We’re specifically taking instructions from the Aboriginal clients, specifically the two bands who were later joined by The Grand Council of the Crees,” Phillips said in an interview.

Day scholars

“They were fed up with … the exclusion of the day scholars from being included in the residential school settlement and wanted to make sure that there was some equity in the treatment of the residential scholars and the day scholars.”

Phillips said, among other things, the federal judge will be asked to reimburse the bands for the legal fees, noting the amount at this time is confidential and will not come from the fund meant to compensate former students.

What has been made public so far is the request for a $10,000 individual payment for each former day scholar that matches the amount of the IRSSA common experience payment.

There is also a request for $50 million to establish a legacy and healing fund, similar to funds created by other settlements.

What is different from the other settlements, noted Phillips, is a payment for all former day scholars who were alive as of May 30, 2005.

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“Canada has agreed…so even the people that are deceased, their families are going to get a recognition for their loss,” said Phillips, noting there were an estimated 12,000 to 25,000 day scholars.

The descendants and living day scholars can attend and participate in the settlement approval hearing on Sept. 7 or watch it virtually via a link to be posted on its website.

Meanwhile, a separate class of the lawsuit comprised of 101 First Nations – the two representative plaintiffs from Tk’emlups and Sechelt and 99 other bands that have opted into the settlement – will be going to court, Phillips noted.

He said that case will determine the liability of Canada to the bands for the imposition of its residential school system.

“Because the effects were not just felt by individuals, which is what’s being compensated in these settlements, but it was also felt by the communities,” he said.

“The loss of language and the loss of culture is what’s being sued for [and] has both a community and an individual aspect. And what we’re looking for is to have a court determine if the community aspect needs compensation.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated 2021-08-04 to delete the sentence on further compensations based on a scale of harms. All approved claimants are eligible for a one-time payment of $10,000. 

The information here may trigger unpleasant feelings or thoughts of past abuse. Please contact the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for support.

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.