Nfld. & Labrador

Residential school survivor 'elated' by settlement talks

A woman from Nain who's one of 1,200 former residential school students suing for damages says she's elated by the decision to halt a trial so settlement talks can be held.

After 8 years of waiting, N.L. plaintiffs hope for apology, compensation

Cindy Dwyer says she can't believe a settlement might be reached after eight years of waiting. (CBC)

A woman from Nain—one of 1,200 former residential school students from this province suing for damages—says she's elated by a decision to halt the trial in a class action lawsuit so settlement talks can be held.

"I wasn't expecting it, but I'm very happy," said Cindy Dwyer. "After eight years of all this waiting, I'm actually elated."

Court proceedings were adjourned Monday after lawyers told the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador that they wanted time to try to reach a negotiated settlement.

"I have total faith in this government right now," said Dwyer, referring to the governing Liberals in Ottawa.

"I'm just so happy that finally this may be going somewhere and we may get a settlement within 29 days. It's surreal."

Residential school students from this province were excluded when a settlement and apology were offered by the Stephen Harper government to victims in the rest of Canada in 2008.

Ottawa said it was not responsible for schools run by the International Grenfell Association and Moravian missionaries before Newfoundland joined Confederation.

Change of tone

"What's changed? I guess the government is the easy answer," said Steve Cooper, one of the lawyers arguing for plaintiffs here.

"This is a government that has shown considerable sensitivity to First Nations, Inuit and Metis issues. We've seen that already."

"We hope this is just another in an increasingly long line of honourable resolutions to historical injustices."

In February, Lawyer Steve Cooper says the new Liberal government in Ottawa appears to be more sensitive to Indigenous issues. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Dwyer said she has paid dearly for her time in residential school in North West River.

A student there from age five to 15, she said she was physically, psychologically and sexually abused. 

Dwyer says testifying at trial also took a toll on her health.

"I lost my job. I lost my home. I became severely depressed," she said.

"My PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] came back. I'm still trying to get past it. It really set me back quite a bit."

Now 52-years-old, Dwyer said she is looking for an apology and compensation.

"What happened to me in that place put me in the predicament I'm in now," she said, adding that she has gone back to school, not because she wants to but feels it's something she has to do "to move on."

Cooper says it's important to settle quickly because former students are aging and more than 100 of them have died since the case began.

Negotiations were scheduled to begin Tuesday with the help of retired judge Robert Wells.

If a settlement is not reached by Feb. 29, the trial will resume.

With files from Mark Quinn