The deadline for former residents of a Halifax-area orphanage to opt out of a multi-million-dollar class-action settlement with the Nova Scotia government has passed.
If five or more former residents withdraw from the agreement, which was finalized last month, the provincial government has the option to pull out of the $29-million deal.
As of 4:30 p.m., no one had opted out, but lawyer Ray Wagner says he's still waiting to make sure no one mailed in their withdrawal.
The settlement marks the end of a 15-year legal battle waged by alleged child abuse victims at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.
Tony Smith, who was sent to the home when he was five years old and stayed there for 3½ years, returns to the spot every once in awhile.
“I'm speechless. I don't know what to feel when I’m here,” he said standing in front of the old building.
Smith says he suffered physical and sexual abuse and hunger. He says staff forced him to fight the other boys.
“I just knew that whatever happened here was wrong. And I knew that one day I was going to do something right about it,” Smith said.
Smith and others who were allegedly abused at the orphanage arrived at another milestone in that journey.
Barring any problems, the settlement will come into effect Sept. 26.
This is good news for Smith, who fought for the settlement.
“It's huge, it's huge. Within the black community and society in general, we knew about the horrors that went on here,” Smith said.
So far, about 250 claimants have registered with the law firm handling the case. The claims of former residents will be turned over to an adjudicator who will disburse the money.
Public inquiry still coming
One former resident, Tracey Dorrington-Skinner lit candles in her home on Monday.
It’s not just the court action on her mind. It’s the public inquiry the province has also promised.
“There's a lot that we don't know. We don't know how this happened. We don't know how this was allowed to happen. We don't know why things were swept under the carpet,” said Dorrington-Skinner.
The province says it's working with former residents to craft the terms of the public inquiry and should have more details in the coming months.
None of the allegations of abuse were ever tested in court and under the terms of the settlement, the province does not admit liability.
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children opened in 1921 and operated for nearly 70 years.