Court denies deadline extension for Indian Day School compensation claims
'This decision should not be taken as a dismissal of the concerns put forward;' court docs say
Indian day school survivors will not be given more time to apply for compensation, according to a Federal Court decision released on Thursday.
The decision marks the end of a legal battle filed by Audrey Hill and Six Nations of the Grand River elected band council. They sought a deadline extension for day school survivor's to file, claims given the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and alleged deficiencies in the process.
But the court has dismissed the motion and has refused to extend the deadline.
"We had thought that the record was very clear that the pandemic had a very negative impact on the ability for people to make claims," said Louis Sokolov, legal council for Hill.
CBC attempted to reach Audrey Hill and Six Nations of the Grand River elected chief Mark Hill for comment but did not hear back by deadline.
Audrey, no relation to Mark, is a day school survivor from Six Nations of the Grand River, located in southern Ontario. Six Nations had 18 day schools, more than any other First Nation community in the country.
Of the approximate 28,000 Six Nations members, an estimated 15,000 are Indian day school class members.
The initial day school settlement agreement gave survivors one year to file compensation claims but the deadline was extended by two-and-half years giving survivors a new date of July 13, 2022.
But in December 2022 Hill and Six Nations of Grand River filed a motion to have that date moved again to Dec. 31, 2025.
Council argued that the dissemination of information was hampered by the pandemic, there was a lack of personalized assistance for class members, class size estimates were unreliable, a lack of in-person help, and compounding problems such as a lack of internet and language barriers were among the issues identified in the process.
In 2019 the Canadian government and survivors settled a class-action lawsuit out of court for $1.27 billion in individual compensation payments and $200 million for a legacy fund.
Indian day school survivors were eligible between $10,000 and $200,000 in compensation depending on the severity of the harm suffered.
Federal Indian day schools and the federal day school system, like residential schools, were an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children by removing them from their language and culture.
Students of the day schools often suffered from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in the institutions usually run by religious organizations.
The court decision said about 185,000 survivors applied for compensation between Jan. 13, 2020 and July 13, 2022.
A six-month extension was granted to individuals who asked for special reasons until Jan. 13, 2023. It is unknown how many people are eligible for compensation.
"We think there are many people who were denied the ability to make claims under this process who suffered terrible harm as a result of the day schools who are not going to get compensation," said Sokolov.
"I think that's a tragedy."
The decision says the reason for the dismissal is because the evidence brought forward does not show failure to "provide notice or class member assistance as promised by the agreement," and the evidence presented does not meet the court's threshold for its supervisory jurisdiction.
"It bears emphasizing that this decision should not be taken as a dismissal of the concerns put forward by the Moving Parties," the decision reads.
"We're looking at the decision very carefully and we will review it and make recommendations to our client over the course of the next few days about whether or not we think there should be an appeal," said Sokolov.