Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic July 25, 2012 - 7:34 am

Deadline looms Sept. 19 for aboriginal residential school compensation

Ottawa urges claimants to apply before it’s too late

DAVID MURPHY

Officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada are pleading with eligible aboriginal claimants to take advantage of the independent assessment process for residential school survivors before its upcoming deadline.

“It’s important to recognize that after Sept. 19 2012, applications will not be accepted subsequent to that date,” stressed Akivah Starkman, executive director of the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat, at a news conference July 23.

The IAP is specifically for those who experienced serious physical, sexual, or emotional abuse at a residential school.

You do not have to have lived at a residential hostel to receive this settlement, however.

A quasi-judicial tribunal that operates independently from the Government of Canada sets up the process. The hearings are entirely out-of-court, and compensation is paid out after a hearing of the claim is deemed worthy of a settlement.

“Claimants present their cases at a hearing before an adjudicator who resolves the claim and rewards financial compensation when warranted,” Starkman said. 

“The claimant is not subjected to cross-examination at the hearing by the parties. As well, the claimant is able to have support people at the hearing, and is provided, through Health Canada, with support throughout the entire process if they need it,” Starkman said.

Many aboriginal people have taken advantage of the IAP, AANDC said.

The Government of Canada has received just over 23,000 claims, as of June 30, for IAP compensation. Of those, the average current payment, including legal costs, is $117,613 — a total compensation of $1.557 billion to date.

Applications can be made online up until Sept. 19, and hearings can still be held after the deadline for those who applied by that date.

The deadline for another compensation plan, Common Experience Payments, essentially for anyone who lived at a residential school, closed its application process a while ago.

However, applications are still open for those who could not apply for the CEP due to disabilities or unusual circumstances.

For Inuit, the CEP has processed 4,371 applications, and Nunavummiut have been paid out $41.2 million through the CEP so far.

Although AANDC has stated that they’re confident they’ve made every effort to “ensure that residential school survivors are made aware of the IAP and are given the opportunity to submit their claim before the deadline,” problems still remain with the application process, said Sandra Omik, legal counsel for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Omik has worked with hundreds of Inuit on these payments, but has come across many “frustrating” issues that prevent Inuit from becoming eligible for compensation.

Matching Inuit with the right names contained in government records is one of those issues. 

Because new surnames given during the residential school period were often forgotten or misspelled, and some records that do not give Inuit disc numbers, those Inuit claimants might see their applications denied.

“I’ve been telling AANDC for the past two or three years, you have to be a bit more proactive with Inuit applications because they will not necessarily provide their [Inuit] disc numbers right away,” Omik said. 

“What Inuit use now are the names they use today. But Service Canada will have a hard time matching those names with current records,” Omik said.

She said AANDC’s statistics don’t tell the whole story. According to AANDC, 77 per cent of CEP applicants were eligible for settlement payments.

“It’s not exactly 77 per cent. It’s like, some students would attend school for four years, they would receive CEP for year one — not for year two or three or four. So that’s not a complete accurate statistic for what the applicants applied for,” Omik said.

Of the 23 per cent who were ineligible for CEP claims, 5.59 per cent of those comes from Inuit people according to Omik— but she does not know if name discrepancies are included in that number.

She asked AANDC if they were, but she’s still waiting for a reply.

The lack of the Inuktitut language during applications is another speed bump that slows the process.

“That is something I’ve been continually telling staff at Aboriginal Affairs and also the residential school agreement secretariat,” Omik said. “Language is a major barrier, because the secretariat does not have Inuktitut applications.

“It’s really frustrating trying to make people understand the importance of Inuktitut resources.”

Hundreds of Inuit in Nunavut have also been denied CEP because many schools were left off the list of eligible residential schools.

But Omik says that although abuse did take place at many of those schools, no payments can be made because they were not owned by Canada, but by provinces and territories.

Out of 30 Nunavut schools that were submitted for addition to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, 15 were not accepted.

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