An 82-year-old woman from Dalles First Nation in northwestern Ontario will receive $70,000 in advance costs for a court case after a judge heard what he described as a "bizarre and lamentable motion."

Ruth Ann Henry applied to the courts for advance costs in a case that could see former students at the Fort William Indian Hospital Sanatorium School receive compensation under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

Henry was turned down by 18 lawyers who were approached to take the case, according to court documents.

"The sad truth is that Mrs. Henry... cannot afford access to justice because she is too poor to pay for it," Justice Paul Perell wrote in his decision, issued Nov. 13.

Perell said he was not being critical of the lawyers who declined to take on Henry's case but said that the "predominate purpose of both class actions and advance costs awards is access to justice."

If the case for which Henry was awarded advance costs is successful, she would be the representative plaintiff in a class action suit on behalf of residential school students who were sent to the sanatorium school in Thunder Bay.

"Mrs. Henry has a story to tell and it is in the public interest that she have an opportunity to tell her story," Perell wrote.

Henry spent a year at the sanatorium school when she was 8 years old in 1941 and was sent there again in 1945 and 1948, according to court documents.

The awarding of costs is just the first in a series of many steps towards compensation for survivors of the sanatorium school.

The class action would set out to prove that the school at the tuberculosis sanatorium was federally funded in the same way as residential schools and that children there suffered the same loss of language and culture.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said that Henry's class action needs to be certified. It does not.
    Nov 25, 2015 10:52 AM ET