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Residential school payments proposed
Jason van Rassel
Calgary Herald

An Assembly of First Nations proposal to give every former residential school student a minimum $10,000 payment would bring more fairness to the government's flawed compensation process, a lawyer representing hundreds of Alberta claimants says.

The $10,000 lump sum is one of the key recommendations made in an AFN study released Wednesday of the federal government's alternative dispute resolution system, which was set up as a way of settling some of the 12,000 lawsuits stemming from residential school abuse.

The out-of-court process has come under heavy criticism, however, for high administrative costs and for not recognizing the loss of language and culture suffered by generations of aboriginal youngsters forced into schools run on Ottawa's behalf by church organizations.

In addition to recommending a $10,000 award for anyone who can prove they attended a residential school, the AFN wants additional compensation paid based on the years spent in the school and a broader definition of abuses eligible for compensation.

"I think we could have a more workable model (if the recommendations were adopted)," said Vaughn Marshall, a Calgary lawyer representing more than 600 claimants who have filed lawsuits in Alberta.

"It would certainly be a lot better than it is now -- though there would have to be some kind of guarantee that these claims could be done in the lifetime of the individual claimants."

Ottawa set up Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada last year to speed the settlement of the thousands of lawsuits against the government.

By early November, however, only three of the 422 cases settled were dealt with through the alternative dispute resolution program. The remainder have been concluded through the courts or legal negotiations.

Since the ADR program began last year, more than 900 people have applied to have their claims heard within the program. As of earlier this month, only 52 applications have been examined by the agency and forwarded to adjudicators. Of those 52 claims, only 27 have been adjudicated and three settlements awarded.

Ottawa spent $61 million last year running Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada -- almost four times the $16.5 million it paid out in actual settlements over the same period.

(c) The Calgary Herald 2004

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