Harper promised compensation 'in error,' minister says

It's "extremely unlikely" Ottawa will keep a Conservative campaign promise to compensate students at a northern Saskatchewan residential school, the federal Indian Affairs minister says.

Ile-a-la-Crosse students don't qualify for residential school compensation: Prentice

It's "extremely unlikely" Ottawa will keep a Conservative campaign promise to compensate students at a northern Saskatchewan residential school,the federal Indian Affairs minister says.

Thousands of children, most of them Métis, boarded at the school in Île-à-la-Crosse between 1884 and 1976, and some of the survivors allege they were abused.

During the campaign a year ago, Conservative leader Stephen Harper said in a radio commercial that if he were prime minister, former students from the school would be compensated.

"We'll provide full compensation for residential school survivors, including those attending theÎle-à-la-Crosse school," Harper said in the advertisement.

However, a $4-billion residential school deal recently approved by courts across Canada doesn't cover students who went to the school.

In a CBC/Radio-Canada interview Wednesday, Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said it's "extremely unlikely" that decision will change.

Prentice now says his party made a mistake and didn't have all the facts when it made the original commitment. That means the court-approvedsettlement deal that would pay some 80,000 former residential school students an average of about $25,000 each won't apply.

"The school doesn't qualify," Prentice said. "The ad, to the extent that it had a different assumption, was in error and that's unfortunate."

According to Prentice,Île-à-la-Crosse school was a Saskatchewan school run by the Catholic church without federal involvement.

Over the course of the20th century, the Saskatchewan government was increasingly involved in the school, Prentice said.

Ottawa's stance on the school upsets some of the former students, such as Don Favel, who attended in the 1960s.

Favel said he was abused at the school and he has a hard time buying the minister's explanation.

'He has to watch what he says'

"They touted it long enough that they should have had the facts," Favel said. "When you're in that position, especially coming from a leader like Harper, I think he has to watch what he says."

Regina lawyer Tony Merchant, who has handled thousands of residential school lawsuits, is currently trying to have a class action lawsuit certified on theÎle-à-la-Crosse matter.

The proposed suit holds Ottawa and Saskatchewan responsible for the loss of language and culture, as well as physical and sexual abuse.

About 150 former students have signed on so far.

Île-à-la-Crosse is 520 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.