Nfld. & Labrador

Approve $50M settlement for N.L. residential school victims, lawyers urge

Tuesday was a proud day, coloured by decades of powerful emotions, for Newfoundland and Labrador residential school survivors, as they inched closer to a long-sought goal.

Victim stifles sobs as lawyer praises residential school survivors who testified

Class action lawyers in Supreme Court in St. John's make the case for the a $50-million settlement for Newfoundland and Labrador residential school survivors. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Tuesday was a proud day, coloured by decades of powerful emotions, for Newfoundland and Labrador residential school survivors, as they inched closer to a long-sought goal.

The day marked the first of a two-day hearing at the Supreme Court in St. John's, with lawyers asking Justice Robert Stack to approve a $50-million dollar settlement for more than 800 survivors of residential schools in the province.

That settlement was reached in May, but requires Stack's approval before any money can be paid out.

Toby Obed of Hopedale barely contained his sobs as class action lawyer Kirk Baert praised survivors who told their stories in court.

Last fall, Obed testified that he was physically and psychologically abused as a child at a residential school in Labrador.
Toby Obed fought back tears as he told the court how staff would make students have sex on field trips and forced others to watch. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

He's one of the people who started the class action almost a decade ago to acknowledge and compensate Newfoundland and Labrador residential school survivors.

In court Tuesday afternoon, he stage whispered "no, sir," when Justice Robert Stack asked if anyone objected to the settlement.

Baert called on Stack to approve the settlement, that lawyers reached after the class action trial was halted last winter.

"If this matter had proceeded it would be September 2021 before it would be finished. Many hundreds of people would have died by the time it was concluded. Many have already died. It's important to settle this matter now and get compensation out as soon as possible," Baert said.

A new adventure

Cindy Dwyer is one of the estimated 800 residential school survivors who stand to benefit from the settlement, if it's approved.

She's been living in Mount Pearl for the past few years but is travelling to Labrador Wednesday to start a new job there. She believes the lawsuit helped make her return to Labrador possible.
Class action member Cindy Dwyer will be paying close attention on May 10. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"It maybe gave me a bit more confidence in myself — everything I've been doing over the last year fighting for this, getting up and speaking for myself. Maybe it's built my confidence up. It's a new adventure, of course," she said.

Lawyers hope to start getting cheques to class action lawsuit members this year.

Members won't all receive the same amount: those who boarded at a residential school for less than five years will receive $15,000 compensation, while those who spent more than five years at school will receive $20,000.

All plaintiffs can also apply for more compensation if they believe they suffered more abuse than their peers.

High priority for federal government

A federal lawyer representing the Attorney General of Canada said reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous people is a high priority for the Liberal government since it came to power, and that's why a settlement was reached.

But it's not a done deal yet.

Lawyers are due back in court Wednesday morning to explain how they will be paid by the settlement.

They say they've literally devoted thousands of hours to this case and are asking for a third of the $50-million settlement to cover their fees.