Ottawa reaches agreement in principle to settle Indian Day School class-action lawsuit

The federal government says a "dark and tragic chapter in Canadian history" is one step closer to resolution with a deal on a potentially multibillion-dollar settlement for former students of Indian Day Schools.

Settlement to include individual compensation, legal fees and $200M for healing and wellness

Garry McLean, the lead plaintiff in the Indian Day Schools court action, presents moccasins to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett after the announcement of the agreement. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)

The federal government says a "dark and tragic chapter in Canadian history" is one step closer to resolution with a deal on a potentially multibillion-dollar settlement for former students of Indian Day Schools.

Garry McLean, the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit on behalf of students who suffered cultural harm and physical and sexual abuse while attending the schools, said he was excited and "really happy" about the announcement that an agreement in principle had been reached. 
 
But it was forgiveness that was on his mind.  

"I had to forgive the person that hurt me as a child. I had to forgive my parents for not standing up for me," said McLean, who attended the Dog Creek Indian Day School in Lake Manitoba First Nation.

"Forgiveness to me has to be taken one step at a time."

'Important milestone'

About 200,000 Indigenous children attended federally operated Indian Day Schools across the country beginning in the 1920s. Indian Day Schools were operated separately from Indian Residential Schools and were not included in the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The agreement in principle includes individual compensation in an amount that has not yet been made public, as well as $200 million for healing, wellness, language, culture and commemoration, and funding for legal fees.

Watch lead plaintiff Garry McLean speak to reporters about the agreement:

Lead plaintiff Garry McLean speaks to reporters after the announcement of an agreement to settle a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students at Indian Day Schools. 1:37

McLean and the law firm representing him, Gowling WLG, reached the agreement in principle with Ottawa on Nov. 30.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the amount available for individual compensation would be announced early in the new year.

The minister said an independent administration would be appointed to oversee the execution of the deal, which still has to go before a judge for a so-called fairness hearing before finalization.

Bennett said the agreement "marks an important milestone for thousands of former Indian Day School students by bringing us one step closer to achieving lasting and meaningful resolution of this litigation by the recognition of Canada for the harm created by this dark and tragic chapter in Canadian history."  

The class-action claim, which was certified on June 21, was seeking about $15 billion.

'It's not complete'

Students who attended Indian Day Schools were left out of the multibillion-dollar Indian Residential Schools agreement. Ray Mason, who attended a day school on the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, said he tried to delay the residential schools settlement to include day school students.

Indian Day School survivor Ray Mason, who attended school in Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, said the agreement was a step in the right direction. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)

Mason said if he had had $10,000 at the time, he would have filed for an injunction to stop the residential schools settlement agreement. He's been fighting for day school survivors ever since.

"I am a very proud person today to see what all has happened today," he said.

"It's not everything we wanted, but it's a step in the right direction."

Mason said the deal only includes students who attended day schools operated in First Nations communities.

He would like to see students who were sent to schools outside First Nations communities to eventually also receive compensation.

"It's not complete," said Mason.

Bennett''s office said the list of schools is still being worked on and it will include off-reserve federally-run schools.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera

Reporter

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.