'We got abused, then robbed': Residential school survivors critical of compensation after Ontario ruling

Residential school survivors and lawyers congratulated the Ontario man who won a $2.5 million settlement from the Catholic church this week, but they wonder why their cases didn't warrant similar awards.

Ontario abuse victim awarded record $2.5M; many residential school survivors got far less, says lawyer

Jenny Spyglass, centre, took up powwow dancing in part to heal from the trauma of residential schools. Spyglass and her surviving siblings, all residential school survivors, were awarded between $10,000 and $20,000 each in compensation — far less than the $2.5 million awarded this week to an Ontario man. (Sumbitted by Jenny Spyglass)

Jenny Spyglass wishes she could forget the day she walked in on a priest raping her sister, Agnes.

"I'm a little better now, but I hate thinking about it," Spyglass, 76, said in an interview with CBC News.

It's not the only traumatic memory of her time at Delmas Indian Residential School — little brother Reggie dying of tuberculosis, older brother Martin left outside to suffer massive frostbite to his hands, Spyglass herself being locked for long periods in a dark, concrete basement, and the near-starvation rations of oatmeal, beans and biscuits.

"I still hate porridge," she said.

Like more than 30,000 residential school survivors, Spyglass and her surviving siblings applied for compensation under a national program.

They were awarded between $10,000 and $20,000 each.

"We got abused, then robbed. I guess there's nothing we can do about it now," said Spyglass, who now lives in North Battleford, Sask., and took up powwow dancing late in life as one way to heal.

Spyglass and others heard reports this week of a record $2.5 million awarded to an Ontario man who was abused by a priest at a Sudbury boy's school.

The jury in the case issued a brief hand-written explanation for its decision against various Catholic church and school bodies.

"Concealment: silent shuffle undertaken to divert in conjunction with complaints, avoiding scandal, neglected to document offences. Put children in harm's way, grossly negligent.… Betrayal of trust with the community," the note read.

Victim deserves 'every penny'

Spyglass and others say they feel sorrow for the man, who endured the same abuse they did. Spyglass said any abuse victim deserves "every penny" of compensation.

But they wonder why residential school abuse survivors got so much less.

Eleanore Sunchild applauded the Ontario abuse survivor who won a $2.5 million settlement from the Catholic Church this week, but says Indian residential school abuse survivors should have also received that much. (Albert Couillard/Radio-Canada)

"Good for him. Good that he fought and he won. I'm sure he suffered a great deal of pain in his life just like all the Indian residential school survivors did, too. But it's not fair," said North Battleford lawyer Eleanore Sunchild, who has worked with Spyglass and hundreds of other survivors.

Under the national agreement negotiated several years ago, compensation was capped at $275,000 per student, with exceptionally severe cases capped at $500,000.

Advocates of the agreement say it provided a less adversarial way to compensate large numbers of survivors relatively quickly.

But Sunchild says many survivors got less than $100,000.

Regina lawyer Tony Merchant, who has also represented residential school survivors, said he's only seen a handful of awards over $200,000.

The survivors "got screwed," Merchant said.

"It's just not right. To me, it wasn't right. And that's not what we contemplated was going to happen."

Sunchild and Merchant noted it's too late for many residential school survivors to use this Ontario precedent. More than 98 per cent of claims have been resolved under the national Independent Assessment Process.

A total of 37,660 claimants have received a total of $3.1 billion, according to the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat.

Saskatchewan had 8,853 claimants, more than any other province.

About the Author

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.