AFN National Chief Files Class Action Claim Against the Government of Canada for Residential Schools Policy
OTTAWA, Aug. 3, 2005
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine announced today that he and the AFN are launching a class action lawsuit against the Government of Canada for the residential schools legacy.
The claim, to be filed tomorrow, states that the residential schools policy and schools caused "irreparable harm and damage" to First Nations' "culture, language, way of life, family, community and social structures".
AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine stated: "The AFN, as the national organization representing all First Nations citizens, including survivors and descendants, is uniquely situated to deal with this issue in a way that no other group can. Other residential schools class actions have been certified or are making their way through the courts, but the AFN class provides for a more comprehensive process, as it deals with loss of language and culture and not only specific acts of physical or sexual abuse, and also includes truth and reconciliation mechanisms and other collective remedies that will benefit all First Nations. We want to ensure the Government of Canada provides fair and just resolution for the abuse we endured in the schools and the assault on our cultures that took place under the residential schools policy."
The AFN claim identifies four classes of survivors: First Nations, Survivor, Deceased and Family Class. Phil Fontaine is named as the representative plaintiff for the First Nations Class and Survivor Class.
"Because of our lack of formal legal status, we have only been participating in a consulting capacity in these discussions," stated the National Chief. "However, this matter is far too important for us not to have a full seat at the table that will ensure not only that our voices are heard on an equal basis with all other parties, but that our consent will be required for any agreement that is reached."
"We will continue to work with the federal representative, Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci, on this important matter and we have the full confidence he is operating in good faith," said National Chief Fontaine. "Our action is not an attempt to impede the process, but rather a means to ensure that we are able to fully participate in the process, more effectively settle this to the benefit of all residential schools survivors and all First Nations citizens affected by the residential schools, and to ensure that all options remain open for them. The Accord has provided a political vehicle to move forward, but a legal vehicle is required to finalize the process with the AFN in a central and representative role, which this action now provides."
Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci was appointed federal representative under an Accord signed by the AFN and Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan on May 30th. That Accord set up a process in which the federal representative would work with all parties involved in residential schools resolution and litigation to come up with a better process to resolve the legacy of the schools. The federal representative is to provide recommendations to the government on a new approach by or before March 31 of 2006.
"We would rather negotiate than litigate, but we feel compelled to exercise all our options," said National Chief Fontaine. "Each day we lose another survivor. Each day someone passes on without having achieved any sense of justice or healing or redress. Each day, First Nations from all walks of life in all parts of the country deal with the loss of language, cultural breakdown and inter-generational effects of the schools. We want to ensure that Canada and First Nations bring closure to this tragic chapter in our shared history."
There are approximately 87,000 residential schools survivors still alive in Canada. The average age of survivors is 57 years old. The government has an "Alternative Dispute Resolution" process in place, but at the current pace it will take 53 years to settle all claims, at a cost to Canadian taxpayers of $2.3 billion dollars in administrative and legal expenses alone. The AFN has set-out a fair, cost efficient and timely approach to resolve the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools in its November 2004 Report on Canada's Dispute Resolution Plan to Compensate for Abuses in Indian Residential Schools. The report is available on the AFN website.
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.
/For further information: Don Kelly, AFN Communications Director, (613) 241-6789, ext. 320 or cell (613) 292-2787; Ian McLeod, AFN Bilingual Communications Officer, (613) 241-6789, ext. 336 or cell (613) 859-4335; Nancy Pine, Communications Advisor, Office of the National Chief, (613) 241-6789, ext. 243 or cell (613) 298-6382/
Click here to Read Turtle Island's coverage of this announcement - Assembly of First Nations Launches $12 Billion Class Action Lawsuit . . .