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Canada offers $2 billion compensation for abuse at native residential schools

[JURIST] Canada's federal government announced Wednesday that it is offering more than $2 billion in compensation to more than 80,000 surviving former First Nations students who may have suffered abuse in native residential schools where they were displaced from their tribes and families and educated by religious orders for assimilation into white society. Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan [official website], speaking at an Ottawa news conference with other cabinet ministers and abuse survivors, including Grand Chief Phil Fontaine [official profile] of Canada's Assembly of First Nations [official website] said that "[b]ringing closure to this chapter of our history lies at the very heart of reconciliation" noting that the package was designed to cover "decades in time, innumerable events and countless injuries to First Nations individuals and communities." Justice Minister Irwin Cotler [official profile] called the physical and sexual abuse suffered at the residential schools was the "single most disgraceful, racist and harmful act in our history."

The agreement in principle was approved by the Canadian federal cabinet and signed on Sunday but still must be approved by the courts. Each eligible former student who applies will be entitled to the sum of $10,000 plus $3,000 for each year spent in the schools. Students over 65 are eligible for an advance payment of $8,000. The package does not include a national apology, but is intended to release the government and the churches who ran the schools from further legal liability, with the exception of cases of sexual abuse or what is deemed to be serious physical abuse. The Assembly of First Nations has sought an official apology, a truth and reconciliation forum, new healing programs and improvements to the process of out-of-court settlements. New Democratic Party (NDP) aboriginal affairs critic MP Pat Martin [official biography] accused the government's offer has having the "stink of desperation" prior to an expected federal election.

Schooling abuse has been an issue for aboriginal children removed from their families in Australia [Wikipedia backgrounder on the "Stolen Generations"] and the US [Amnesty International report] after Native children suffered abuse at the residential boarding schools [Twofrog backgrounder] where they were forcibly sent in the nineteeth and twentieth centuries. Compensation is those jurisdictions has not ben forthcoming. Read the AFN press release on the announced Canadian compensation package. CTV has local coverage.

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