Saskatchewan survivors file class action against Ottawa over excluded residential school

The Île-à-la-Crosse school was excluded from the multi-billion dollar settlement agreement

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A group of residential school survivors recently filed a class action lawsuit against Ottawa seeking compensation for their time as students at the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school in Saskatchewan.

The class action lawsuit, which still needs certification, was filed on Sept. 2 with the Federal Court of Canada.

The Île-à-la-Crosse school was excluded from the multi-billion dollar settlement agreement because Ottawa said it had nothing to do with operating the school which was run by the Roman Catholic Oblate Fathers order.

The lawsuit argues that Canada has a constitutional responsibility for the First Nation and Metis children who attended the school and that Ottawa delegated the school’s operation to the Saskatchewan government. The lawsuit said the RCMP also enforced attendance at the school and residential schools operated as a result of federal policy.

The class action represents about 100 survivors who attended the school from Saskatchewan communities like Buffalo Narrows, Dillon, Turner Lake, La Loche, Beauval, Jans Bay and Cole Bay.

“I know some of those nuns would be in jail, what they did to kids there,” said survivor Tony Maurice, 73. “I saw one kid, one morning, he had his bedsheet over his head that the nuns had thrown over him and they wanted him to smell his piss. It was a Dene kid.”

Maurice began attending the school in 1950 when he was seven and remained there until 1956.

“It was pretty tough, it is pretty tough,” said Maurice, who is the mayor of Jans Bay, in northernwestern Saskatchewan. “It took me a month at least to say I wanted to go the washroom (in English)…I saw a lot of kids going in their pants and everything.”

Maurice said Cree was his first language.

“Personally, I had been called everything from a ‘nigger’ to different names,” he said. “I am a fairly dark person, I guess I didn’t qualify as a human being.”

Maurice said Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett visited Île-à-la-Crosse on Sept. 8 for the school building’s ceremonial demolition. Maurice said she met with some of the survivors. Maurice said Bennett told them she wanted to negotiate a settlement. He said Bennett told them “it was time to get to the table” to find a “just and honourable resolution.”

But he’s not holding his breath for Ottawa to come and settle their claim.

“I am waiting. Every day I wait for a call or something,” said Maurice, in a phone interview from the Jans Bay hamlet office.

Bennett’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

The lawsuit is being handled on behalf of the survivors by Calgary law firm Klym Law.

The school operated from 1921 to the mid-1980s.

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