Nfld. & Labrador

Dwight Ball's 'broken promise': Residential school survivors await apology

Residential school survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador say Premier Dwight Ball's apology to them is long overdue, but Ball says it will happen.

Dwight Ball reaffirms his commitment to apologize to N.L. residential school survivors

Steven Cooper says the apology promised to residential school survivors in N.L. is overdue. (CBC)

A lawyer who represented almost 1,000 members of a class-action lawsuit settled in 2016 has a direct message for Dwight Ball about residential school apologies: "Do what you say you were going to do."

Ball has yet to keep his promise to apologize to residential school survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it's long overdue, says Steven Cooper, a partner at Cooper Regel.

"He took the time to come to the prime minister's apology [in 2017]. Made a big show of the fact that he was going to apologize, and then we have had nothing but silence," said Cooper. 

I want to do this apology.- Dwight Ball

Cooper said he also received no response when he wrote Ball in March to remind him of the commitment he made in a Nov. 23, 2017, news release.

N.L. Premier Dwight Ball, seen here at Confederation Building, attended the federal government's apology to residential school survivors in 2017. (CBC)

"I inquired about the apology to give the premier an opportunity to fulfil his promise and not only has he not done so, he didn't bother to give us a reply," he said.

Speaking on the 2019 election campaign trail in Bonavista on Tuesday, Ball responded to Cooper.

"I'm committed to this. Now it's getting the date and the place that we can agree on with all the Indigenous leaders," said Ball. "I want to do this apology. It should be done, but right now we've got to work with the Indigenous groups so we get it right. So this is about the timing, scheduling and the wording of the apology."

Class action settled

The suit concerns the period between 1949 and 1979, when thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities to attend five residential schools that were run by the International Grenfell Association or Moravians. Many said they were sexually and physically abused at the schools, and suffered language and cultural losses.The schools all predated Confederation with Canada in 1949. 

About 1,000 students who attended residential schools accepted a $50-million settlement in 2016 from the federal government. Those same students were not included in a settlement and apology to residential school survivors in 2008 by then-prime minister Stephen Harper, because the schools they attended were not run by the Canadian government itself. 

In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to apologize to Newfoundland and Labrador's residential school survivors.

But Cooper said an apology from Canada alone is not good enough for those survivors.

"Canada's involvement was from a distant constitutional perspective. We viewed them as ultimately responsible, but the people on the ground included the province, the International Grenfell Association and the Moravian Church and we haven't heard apologies from any of those three institutions, notwithstanding that they were more in charge of the day-to-day operations of these schools," he said.

In Hopedale, residential school survivor Toby Obed is also calling on Ball to keep his word.

"As the premier of our province it is his obligation. It is his duty and I am waiting. I am waiting for an apology from our province," Obed said. "It angers me. It's been going on for far too long. It's time now to say enough is enough and we want our apology."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.