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Indian school students win $4B compensation

Daryl Slade and Janice Tibbetts,
Calgary Herald; CanWest News Service

Published: Saturday, December 16, 2006

More than 10,000 former students of now-defunct Indian residential schools will start receiving cheques by next summer following a historic $4 billion deal approved by courts across Canada on Friday.

The ruling affects about 80,000 former students of the defunct schools, believed to be all living survivors, and ends more than a decade of litigation involving slightly more than 10,500 claims -- 3,950 in Alberta.

"This is the largest class-action settlement in Canada and one of the largest in the world," said Calgary lawyer Vaughn Marshall, whose firm represents more than 700 claimants.

"We strongly urge everyone to come forward and get information to process the claims."

Up to $2 billion has been set aside for common experience settlement and a further $2 billion for students who suffered serious physical abuse or sexual abuse.

Marshall said everyone who attended a residential school, run by the federal government and various churches, will receive a payment of $10,000 for the first year plus $3,000 for each additional year, for culture and religious violations.

He said about 10 per cent of the claimants qualify for the sexual abuse or serious physical abuse or psychological damage, ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 on the low end up to $300,000 for major abuse.

The average payout will be about $24,000, based on the amount of time they lived in the schools.

Phil Fontaine, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, predicted the "vast majority" of former students will ratify the deal within a six-month deadline, putting an end to the lawsuits filed against the government.

"The settlement agreement represents our future as much as it speaks to the past in our communities," said Fontaine, who attended a residential school in Manitoba.

"We have in this agreement recognition that harm was done to our people and that those who harmed our people are prepared to accept their responsibility."

Calgary Court of Queen's Bench Justice Terry McMahon, one of eight judges across Canada to rule Friday, said the settlement is supported by all parties. "The claims are unique in many of the issues raised. The settlement is equally unique and likely without precedence," he said.

The Calgary Herald 2006