The federal government has earmarked $1.7 billion to settle up to 18,000 native residential school lawsuits over seven years.
Public Works minister Ralph Goodale, who is charged with resolving mounting residential school claims, made the announcement today.
“Time is running out for the elderly claimants and those in ill health,” he said. “We need a system that does not clog the courts nor spend all the money on lawyers.”
More than 12,000 former students have sued Ottawa and the four churches that ran the government-owned schools for physical, sexual, and cultural abuse. More claims arise every day and it’s believed many more lawsuits are still to come.
At current rates of settlement, the cases would languish in court for more than 50 years and run up legal bills of more than $2 billion, Goodale said.
He outlined what he called an alternative framework to speed settlements by moving them out of court and into hearings before qualified adjudicators, perhaps retired judges.
The plan is controversial.
Settlements for victims would follow an established grid of offences. Smaller payments for relatively minor assaults would increase to $100,000 or more for the most serious physical and sexual abuse.
Ottawa would pay 70 percent of validated claims which, by its estimates, would cost about $1 billion.
Another $736 million would be go for costs and health support for victims, along with the expense of validating claims.
Victims would have to look to the Catholic, Anglican, United ,and Presbyterian Churches for the other 30 percent of the settlement.
The Anglican and Presbyterian Churches already have struck preliminary deals with Ottawa that would see their share of payments capped at $25 million and $2.1 million, respectively.
Talks have stalled with Catholic church groups, named in more than 70 percent of cases. Negotiations will resume soon with the United Church, Goodale said last week.