‘We’re not out of the woods yet’: Federal Court dismisses appeal of day schools agreement

Justice Marianne Rivoalen’s decision moves the stalled agreement another step closer.

Students in front of Trout Lake Indian Day School in Ontario.

A federal court judge has rejected one of two attempts to reopen the proposed McLean Day School settlement agreement.

Justice Marianne Rivoalen’s decision moves the stalled agreement another step closer to being able to compensate former students of federal Indian day schools.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” said Margaret Swan, a representative plaintiff and one of an estimated 140,000 claimants.

“We could continue to be held up.”

Rivoalen dismissed one of two appeals by Quebec Indigenous leader Paul-Emile Ottawa, chief of Conseil des Atikamekw de Manawan.

Chief Ottawa now has 60 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

His second application seeking leave to appeal the settlement is still in play at federal court.

“These appeals…have been the main cause of delay in opening the claims process,” confirmed Gowling WLG, the law firm representing the class.

“Unless Chief Ottawa decides to waive his right to approach the Supreme Court, the claims process will remain stalled for at least the next two months. Further, there is the matter of Chief Ottawa’s second appeal, which is still pending before the federal court of appeal.”

APTN News visited Chief Ottawa’s community this week but he did not make himself available for an interview.

The judge’s decision comes a week after the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) passed a resolution urging Chief Ottawa to withdraw his two appeals.

Read more: ‘I never thought I would live to see justice’: Indian day school survivors eager for settlement

The Assembly of First Nations has suggested 150 former students are dying every month as they wait for recognition and compensation for harms suffered while being forced to attend the schools.

“Until Chief Ottawa’s appeals are put to rest for good, class members will not be able to begin submitting claims for compensation,” Gowling added in an emailed statement.

“We hear the frustration and concern this is causing survivors. We have spoken to hundreds of class members who have expressed their dismay over this situation.”

Swan said she, too, is hearing from upset survivors.

“People are sending me messages and asking me questions,” she said Thursday.

Swan said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde was to meet with Chief Ottawa this week to discuss alternatives to appealing the settlement agreement.

The AFN didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether the meeting occurred.

Former students are eligible to receive from $10,000 and $200,000 each in compensation, depending on the physical and sexual abuse they suffered. Claims were supposed to start being processed on December 19.

The lawsuit is named for Garry McLean, who attended the Dog Creek Indian School in Manitoba. McLean, who died of cancer last February, initiated a $15-billion class-action lawsuit against the federal government in 2009.

As part of the settlement, Ottawa is spending $200 million to establish the McLean Day School Settlement Corporation for Legacy Projects for former students and their communities.

 

Online Journalist / 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.