Indian day school survivors to no longer be allowed to modify their claims in national settlement

After June 15, survivors of Indian day schools will no longer be allowed to resubmit or modify the level of compensation they're seeking under the legal settlement for harms suffered while attending the federally operated schools.

Not allowing changes runs counter to concept of progressive disclosure, says lawyer

The Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center has several day school photos in its archives, but some photos, like this one have little information about when they were taken or who is pictured. (KORLCC)

After June 15, survivors of Indian day schools will no longer be allowed to resubmit or modify the level of compensation they're seeking under the legal settlement for harms suffered while attending the federally operated schools.

Some survivors and advocates say the decision is problematic.

According to class counsel, the process was always intended for claimants to submit a claim one time. The claims administrator, Deloitte, had been making exceptions for survivors who hadn't yet received a decision, when the process was still new.

The schools, also called federal day schools, operated separately from residential schools but were operated by many of the same groups that ran residential schools. Their operation spanned from the 1860s to the 1990s.

The nationwide class action settlement offers former students a range of compensation between $10,000 and $200,000, based on abuse suffered while attending the schools. A $200 million legacy fund will also be established for wellness and healing initiatives.

As of June 1, the claims administrator Deloitte has received 43,628 claims. Of those claims, 10,292 have so far received compensation.

A notice on Deloitte's website advises former students to take their time filing out claim forms and use available resources before submitting.

"Class counsel are here to fully support claimants as they submit a claim. They are not alone in this process – we provide one-on-one support to review narratives, advise on level selection, and help fill out the claim form at no cost," said class counsel in a statement.

Survivors are asked to call the help line at 1-844-539-3815 for assistance or the Indian Day Schools website for online resources including virtual claim form workshops.

But not being able to make changes after submitting the claim form has some concerned.

Dorothy Dell is a day school survivor from Kahnawake, Que., who attended Kateri Tekakwitha School in the Mohawk community south of Montreal during the early 1960s. 

"It makes me angry," said Dell, who wanted to change the level of harm suffered on her claim.

Dell said she and another classmate were sexually abused by a clergy member who was present in the school but that she was advised to submit a level one claim because the abuse didn't happen on school grounds.

She found out this week her former classmate was advised to apply for a higher level of compensation. When Dell called the claims administrator to ask about modifying her claim, she was told a cheque had already been mailed.

Dorothy Dell attended Kateri Tekakwitha School, one of the handful of Roman Catholic-affiliated Indian Day Schools that operated in Kahnawake, Que. (Submitted by Dorothy Dell)

"It was a gut-wrenching cry, bringing back all the memories," said Dell. 

"I rushed into it, but I don't want to be reliving all this stuff. I had put it way in the back of my head. All the money in the world isn't going to make up for what happened."

She's urging other survivors to take their time with the form.

"Don't rush it like I did. I just wanted it over and done with, thinking about maybe I won't have to deal with it or think about it anymore," said Dell.

Dell's daughter Heather Berry said she feels the process is unfair and rushed.

"I don't understand how they can get away with starting to process claims before a deadline that they're imposing," she said.

"When we talk about institutionalized racism, this is exactly what we're talking about. 'Let's rush this process; let's make it as unfair or hard as possible so they can cut as many people out as possible' and that's so not fair to these elders who have suffered."

David Schulze, a Montreal lawyer with Dionne Schulze, said the settlement process being used is not conducive to the phenomenon of progressive disclosure, where survivors reveal more as they become more comfortable. 

David Schulze is a Montreal lawyer with Dionne Schulze. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

It's something that the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation said in its report on lessons learned from the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement would be important to accommodate in future compensation processes.

"A model that asks people to just sit down by themselves and describe the abuse, sign it, and mail it, was not going to work well," said Schulze.

"Abuse victims have spent a lifetime trying not to think or talk about their abuse. We saw this with #metoo. Why did we think it would be different for people who suffered this abuse as children in a context of racial and institutional discrimination?"


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.