British Columbia

Vancouver hearing room for residential school abuse claims officially closes

A hearing room where adjudicators heard more than 500 claims of abuse in Canadian residential schools was officially closed Wednesday in Vancouver.

'This place really was one where a lot of tears were shed,' says adjudicator of abuse claims

Elder Sam George, left, survivor of Indian Residential Schools and a support worker, sing an Indigenous song during the closing ceremony of the hearing room in Vancouver on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

In a ceremony Wednesday, a room in Vancouver where adjudicators heard more than 500 claims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse suffered at residential schools was officially closed.

The room was opened in 2009 for claimants to share their stories as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.

"This place really was one where a lot of tears were shed," said Dan Shapiro who was the chief adjudicator for the proceedings, which held its final hearing in May 2017

"There was a lot of anger that was expressed and often at the end of the day there was a lot of feelings of appreciation for the opportunity to share the experience." 

The hearings took place as part of the Independent Assessment Process set up in 2007 under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The process was established to resolve claims of serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse suffered at Indian Residential Schools. It allows claimants to settle their claims more quickly, out of court. 

The process was meant to prevent the re-traumatization of living through their experiences, or of their testimony being challenged.

To date, the government of Canada has paid out over $3.1 billion in compensation for abuse suffered by more than 38,000 students at residential schools, according to the Adjudication Secretariat, which oversees the process.

Fewer than 40 claims are still awaiting resolution across Canada. 

Dan Shapiro, chief adjudicator with the Independent Assessment Process for resolving abuse claims, left, with Gertie Pierre, a survivor of Indian Residential Schools. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The closing ceremony of the Vancouver hearing room was attended by several former claimants, elders and staff members. Shapiro says the official closing of the room marks an important milestone.

"We heard some horrific recounts of experiences of people in their childhood and when I look back on it, those are not the parts of the day that I remember," he said. "The parts that I remember are the ways that people move forward in their lives either through forgiveness or resilience or redemption." 

Elder Charles Chapman leads an opening prayer at Wednesday's closing ceremony. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Vancouver facility was built as a safe space for claimants including a breakout room used to meet with elders, support workers and accompanying family members or friends. 

Shapiro says the design included Indigenous artwork and symbolism to make claimants feel at home.

"People who went to residential schools were often in situations of confinement and darkness and so one of the features of the hearing centre is that it's all built around light and comfort." 

The Secretariat expects to complete the remaining claims by 2020.