APTN National News
The federal government says it is open to settling a legal battle with Indian residential school survivors from Newfoundland and Labrador, according to a spokesperson for the federal Indigenous Affairs department.
Federal government lawyers are preparing to launch their arguments before the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador against a claim from Indian residential school survivors from that province. Justice Canada’s lawyers are expected to begin their arguments the week of Feb. 1.
The case, which is in the midst of trial, has already heard arguments from the lawyers representing survivors from five schools which operated in province until 1980. The outcome of the case could impact between 1,000 to 2,000 survivors, according to one of the lawyers representing the former students.
Indigenous Affairs issued a statement Friday saying Ottawa is still reviewing the case and hasn’t ruled out seeking a negotiated settlement. The statement said federal lawyers indicated they planned to proceed with the trial out of a technical necessity.
“The government of Canada is open to exploring other options to address this claim,” said the statement from Indigenous Affairs. “In the meantime, this is an active litigation and the government must continue to respond to the requirements of the court.”
One of the lawyers involved in the case said he’s received no indication from Ottawa it plans to settle this matter outside of a trial.
“It’s been radio silence in terms of settlement,” said James Sayce, a Toronto-based lawyer representing survivors.
Ottawa argues that it is not responsible for what happened at the five Indian residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador because it had no direct involvement in any of the schools’ operations.
The schools were founded before the province joined Confederation in 1949. The last school closed in 1980. Ottawa provided funding to the province for the schools.
“Canada is essentially saying, we didn’t build the schools and we didn’t have employees staffing the schools even though we paid for the schools and knew what was going on, there wasn’t a direct enough connection between Canada and the administration of the school,” said Sayce.
Sayce said Ottawa’s position is ludicrous.
“Their position has been essentially: They are not our responsibility, these children, these Aboriginal children who were our responsibility in the rest of Canada were not our responsibility in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.
The legal team for the survivors uncovered internal federal legal opinions from the 1950s and 1960s revealing Ottawa recognized it held legal responsibility for Indigenous people living in Newfoundland and Labrador.
NDP MP Charlie Angus says Ottawa needs to immediately drop the case if it’s serious about reconciliation.
“Get it out of the courts and get it out now,” he said.
Angus wrote a letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould this week urging her to direct federal lawyers to begin settlement talks with the residential school survivors in the spirit of reconciliation.
“Regardless of how the court ends up ruling, it appears to me, that refusing to settle the matter will be contrary to statements and be breaking commitments made by yourself, the prime minister and the minister of Indigenous and northern affairs before, during and after the election,” wrote Angus, in his Jan. 21 letter. “I am sure you will agree that in the matter of reconciliation with those who were victimized by the residential schools that words are not good enough. Action is required.”
Survivors from residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador were not included in the multi-billion dollar residential school settlement that created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
As one of its 94 “calls to action,” the TRC called on the Trudeau Liberal government to settle claims from survivors not covered by the existing settlement agreement.
Trudeau has said his government would accept all the TRC’s recommendations.