OTTAWA—Brilliant late-winter sunshine lifted the spirits of Garry McLean's family members Tuesday as they celebrated the former Indian Day School survivor—and a proposed settlement of his class-action lawsuit against the federal government that he never lived to see.
Indigenous drumming and song filled the air and loved ones clutched a photo of McLean, the lead plaintiff in a 2009 suit seeking compensation for the harms he and his fellow students suffered, after Crown-Indigenous minister Carolyn Bennett announced the details of the long-sought settlement.
“The sun is shining,” said Roger Augustine, a regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, as well as a fellow plaintiff and day school survivor who attended a facility near Miramichi, N.B. beginning at the age of six.
“It kind of reminds of me of the way Garry was . . . Garry gave his life to his work and gave his life to what we are experiencing today,” he noted.
“With that, I want to say thank God—and thank Garry.”
Former students who are part of the class action would receive basic personal compensation of $10,000 each under the terms of the settlement.
Those who experienced physical and sexual abuse at the schools also would be eligible for additional compensation of between $50,000 and $200,000, Bennett said.
Claudette Commanda, 62, attended a day school in her Quebec community of Kitigan Zibi First Nation more than half-a-century ago.
She described imagining how her six-year-old self might have reacted to Tuesday's news.
“That six-year-old would say, 'Finally,'" she said. "'Finally, the abuse, the violence, the physical violence, and the name-calling is going to stop.'”
Canada is committed to righting historical wrongs in the spirit of reconciliation, noted Bennett, who called the proposed agreement a major step forward.
“This agreement will bring us one step closer to a lasting and meaningful resolution for survivors . . . of this dark and tragic chapter in Canada's history,” she remarked.
The proposed settlement follows discussions between the government and parties to the suit, which originally was filed in 2009 on behalf of indigenous people and their families who attended Indian Day Schools, which began operating across Canada in the 1920s.
McLean died of cancer in February.
“We are all so sad that he didn't live to see this day,” said Bennett, noting his courage and advocacy paved the way for the settlement.
Nearly 200,000 indigenous children attended more than 700 federally-operated Indian Day Schools, where many endured trauma, including physical and sexual abuse.
The government estimates that between 120,000 and 140,000 former students may end up taking part in the class action.
The schools operated separately from the more infamous residential school system, and were not included in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement approved in 2006.
Many Canadians are aware of the tragic legacy of residential schools but not of the day schools, Bennett said.
“Although children who attended Indian Day Schools did leave school at the end of the day, many students experienced trauma and were subject to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of individuals who had been entrusted with their care,” she noted.
“Due to government policies, children were denied the opportunity to speak their language and were forced to abandon their culture.”
Before approving the settlement, the court will consider comments made by the members of the class action, and submissions made by their legal counsel and the government, to determine whether the settlement is fair, reasonable, and in the best interest of the class members.