Lawsuit suspended in residential school redress class action after parties agree to negotiate

A trial in a class action lawsuit brought by more than 300 First Nations was adjourned last week after plaintiffs and the federal government agreed to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.

The case, dubbed the band repair class action lawsuitcalls for collective compensation for the collective harm suffered by First Nations, particularly the destruction of language and culture, under Canada’s Residential Schools system.

Attorney for lead plaintiffs Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and Shíshálh Nation said in a Sept. 20 statement that they are « currently working out the details » of a draft final settlement agreement to resolve the claims.

In a tweet the next day, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller called the adjournment a « significant breakthrough. » It was hit in the 11th hour in a case originally due to go to trial this month – and which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government had previously planned to fight.

« Much work remains to be done, including formal negotiation of a settlement agreement and its approval by the Federal Court, » Miller said in the tweet.

« In order to allow sufficient space for these discussions, Canada will not make any other material public statements unless the parties agree. »

A spokesperson for Waddell Phillips, one of three law firms representing the plaintiffs, also declined to comment further when reached by CBC News.

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, which were church-run, government-funded institutions operating across the country for more than a century.

The claims for collective compensation, also described as reparations, were originally grouped with the demands of the residential school day schools in a broad class action lawsuit known as the Gottfriedson case.

Day schools attended boarding schools during the day, but returned home at night. They often suffered the same abuse as their peers who lived in the settlements but were excluded from the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The Liberals settled the Day Fellows out of court in June 2021, agreeing to pay cash compensation to survivors and their descendants, but the government initially refused to negotiate with the band’s other reparations claimants.

Now, over the next few weeks, Canada and the main First Nations plaintiffs plan to negotiate the terms of a proposed settlement agreement, which, if successful, would then be subject to Federal Court approval, according to the law firms’ press release.

There are now 326 First Nations who have opted to sue and all will have the opportunity to express their views on any proposed settlement agreement, the statement added.


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