Indian day school lawsuit numbers swell
First Nation lawyer Joan Jack speaks about the McLean Day School class action lawsuit she filed in 2009 against the federal government during the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Residential School Gathering June 11-12 at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay.
An update on a class action lawsuit by former day school students was given June 11 at the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Residential School Gathering in Thunder Bay.
“We’ve got over 10,000 people registered for the day school class action now,” said Joan Jack, a lawyer who launched the McLean Day School Class Action lawsuit in 2009 against the federal government.
“Because the legal arguments are not strong on the side of the day scholars, I ended up getting all of the day school students’ enquiries referred to me. This turned into a big groundswell,” Jack said during the gathering.
An amendment to the claim later allowed other day school students from across Canada to potentially join the lawsuit.
Thousands of First Nation day school students were left out of the $1.9-billion residential school compensation settlement because they went home to their families every night.
Day schools were operated on or near First Nation communities to educate registered Indian, Metis and Inuit children.
An Ojibway from Berens River in Manitoba who specializes in Aboriginal law, Jack lives in B.C. with her husband.
Since launching the suit she has received referrals from big law firms and Service Canada offices all over the country.
“So surprise, you know what happened? We’re united,” Jack said. “And now it’s wonderful, because now we have political power. If we stay united as day school students, we have political power. We are a force to be reckoned with.”
A number of Indian day schools were located in northern Ontario, including Aroland Indian Day School, Big Trout Lake Indian School, Christ the King Day School in Moosonee, Lac Seul Day School, Long Lac Indian Day School and Northwestern Bay Day School in Fort Frances.
Former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine and another lawyer are now working with Jack on the lawsuit, with Fontaine providing advice and direction.
“Phil is a really good man and he has decided he is going to put his shoulder to the truck again and see if he can get this one unstuck,” Jack said.
Fontaine was national chief when he helped negotiate the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which excluded day school students.
Jack is looking to raise money to hire a legal team for the next step in the class action lawsuit.
“I need to raise the resources so I can hire specialized class action lawyers because it is a specialized field of law,” Jack said.
“Some lawyers have been volunteering here and there, but I need to get our team in order.”
Once the federal government files their defence against the statement of claim, the case goes to a certification process where the court hears arguments from both sides of the case.
If the court agrees there was an injustice, a settlement agreement is usually negotiated.
“We are not looking for a handout,” Jack said. “We have been victimized by the Canadian state and seeking justice is different than asking for a handout. Seeking justice is about having the other party stand up and say ‘Yes, this was wrong.’”
Former day school students wanting to take part in the class action can fill out a form found at www.joanjack.ca.
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