North

'Day scholar' lawsuit verdict could be a decade away

If you went to a federal day school, you may be part of a new class-action lawsuit, but don't expect to see results right away. 'It's not months or years,' says lawyer Steve Cooper. 'We're probably a decade away.'

As many as 700,000 former day school students across Canada now part of class-action lawsuit

If you went to a federal day school, you may be part of a new class-action lawsuit.

Earlier this week, a federal court judge gave the green light to two B.C. bands to make their case on behalf of former day school students across Canada.

Lawyer Steven Cooper says results a class-action lawsuit on behalf of day school students could include 700,000 people, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. (CBC)

Steve Cooper, a lawyer in Edmonton, says the ruling is an important step, but warns that students should not expect a quick resolution.

"It's not months or years," Cooper says. "We're probably a decade away."

Cooper, who has worked on similar cases over the past 20 years, says he's observed "an increasing desire to litigate" in the federal government. 

"They say nice words, but their actions speak much louder than those words and bottom line is that they are not conciliatory to First Nations and Inuit people. It's really deteriorated.

Cooper says he's worried that many people who could be part of the suit could be ill or dead before it's resolved.

He cited the lawsuit on behalf of residential school students in Labrador, which was launched eight years ago and has yet to go to trial. 

Which schools?

The day scholar lawsuit automatically includes any former day students of the roughly 140 residential schools listed in the original Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement between 1920 and 1997. (See the full list here.)

"If they are successful in the action, you're potentially looking at $10,000 or more per person," Cooper says.

The judge declined to include descendants of students in the case, noting that children and grandchildren would be too large a group to define.

Still, Cooper estimates the number of former students in the lawsuit could be as high as 700,000 — both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. 

That latter category includes himself. 

Cooper's father was a teacher in the North for 25 years. Steve Cooper went to school in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, and graduated from day school in Hay River, N.W.T.

"It's a huge class and you can't make racial distinctions," he says. 

While all former day school students are automatically part of the class-action lawsuit, Cooper advises former students to get in touch with a lawyer if they want to opt out, of if they'd like to receive information as the case progresses. 

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