Technicalities cause rejection of Residential Schools Settlements

Between January and February, stories have been released that share the same issue of individuals being denied their residential school claims.

The situations vary widely but each shares a focal point; the individuals are not being given compensation due to minor technicalities. The cases are generally lost on highly technical grounds based on competing interpretations of the wording of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA)

Released on Feb 3, a residential school claim was rejected, then identified for compensation, then rejected again, leaving the Crown-Indigenous Relations office saying that the case is being reviewed again.

Percy Wallace, 56, had been a victim of a student-on-student sexual assault at the Sechelt residential school in British Columbia, but his claim through the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) which is the compensation adjudication body that was created through the residential schools’ settlement agreement, was rejected in 2012.

But when he heard his previously rejected residential school settlement claim and that he should submit an offer to negotiate a resolution to the claim on May 25, 2018,

Wallace attended the Sechelt school from 1974 to 1975, the last year of the institution’s operations. He was transferred to St. Mary’s Mission the next year.

The offer of negotiation was later submitted on Oct. 22, 2018, and then rejected on Nov. 16, 2018.

It was revealed that 11 other student-on-student cases surfaced after Wallace filed for compensation with the IAP, and Bennett’s office did not offer an answer as to how many of the 240 cases were deemed eligible.

Earlier on Jan. 20, a woman was denied settlement for sexual assault while en route to a residential school because “she wasn’t yet a student.”

Therese Keenatch died at 60, which was two weeks after her residential school compensation claim was first rejected on grounds that she wasn’t technically a student when she was sexually assaulted by a federal employee on the way to a Saskatchewan residential school.

Her daughter, June Keenatch, took up the case after her mother’s passing and continued the fight all the way to the B.C. Supreme Court where she faced Justice Canada’s lawyers.

Federal lawyers argued that her mother did not qualify for compensation because she hadn’t been officially admitted at the school at the time of the assault and the federal employee was also not technically connected to a residential school — though he claimed to take children to the institutions. The court ruling was dismissed on January 9.

Keenatch said her mother had six children and used a wheelchair for much of her life. She was just 15 when she was picked up by a guidance counsellor employed by the Department of Indian Affairs while she walked in her home community of Witchekan Lake First Nation in September 1970, according to Brown’s ruling.

Even earlier on Jan. 8, it was ruled that a deceased residential school survivor’s compensation claim can be overturned due to a lack of signature.

On March 13, 2018, IAP adjudicator Cheryl Macdonald awarded compensation of $27,222 to a claimant for forced participation in at least two incidents of simulated intercourse during his time at a Quebec residential school.

The claimant, now deceased, had opened up about sexual abuses he experienced during his school years at a healing camp. The allegations were documented and recorded by a note-taker. An eyewitness also corroborated the abuse with sworn evidence.

The claimant’s family requested a review of Macdonald’s decision, feeling that the compensation was too low. Instead, deputy chief adjudicator Wes Marsden overturned the decision in July because the claimant had not physically signed an IAP application.

As well, on Jan. 17 it was ruled that new abuse evidence is not enough to reopen rejected Indian residential school claims.

Ottawa went to court seeking to stop the reopening of rejected cases and the British Columbia Supreme Court justice ruled that new evidence of abuse was not enough to reopen rejected Indian residential school compensation claims.

Justice Brenda Brown said that reopening concluded compensation claims based on new evidence broke the rules created by the 2006 multi-billion dollar Indian residential school settlement agreement between Ottawa, the churches and survivors.

Brown said allowing cases to reopen on these grounds could also trigger a chain reaction without end, undermining one of the core aims of the agreement — finality.

The ruling was considered a “big win” for Ottawa.

Brown ruled that IAP decisions by adjudicators are, for the most part, final, and only the courts could reopen an IAP claim under the terms of the settlement agreement.

During the first six years of the IAP, Ottawa denied the existence of documented sexual abuse and student-on-student abuse at St. Anne’s despite sitting on thousands of pages of police and court files itemizing such abuse.

Ottawa was forced to release the documents by an Ontario court in 2014.

Currently, about 98 percent of all IAP claims have been resolved to date and 90 percent of survivors who filed a claim have received compensation, according to the chief adjudicator’s office.

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