What Is the Newfoundland and Labrador Residential Schools Class Action About, and Why is it Different than in the Rest of Canada?

The Residential Schools Class Action is similar to residential schools class actions that were brought and settled through a global agreement with the Government of Canada and other bodies, like churches, back in 2007 when it was approved by courts across Canada.

Native people living in Newfoundland and Labrador were excluded from that settlement and they were also excluded from the apology that was tendered by the Prime Minster, something which was very distressing to the people in that class action.

Our clients number around 1,000 and they are people who attended the various boarding schools or residential schools that were established in Labrador and also to some extent at St. Anthony in northern Newfoundland.

In the period from Confederation in 1949 historically the case is that the Federal Government had constitutional responsibility for the welfare and education of our native peoples. They pulled a fast one during the process of negotiating the Terms of Union, and officials struck out or penciled out that term of the Terms of Union which up to that point had been quite express on placing the responsibility on the Federal Government.

So that the ultimate Terms of Union that were adopted and passed into law, by which Newfoundland joined Confederation with Canada, did not contain a clause directly addressing the responsibility for the education for native peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador. Now by their own legal opinions that changed nothing, they remained responsible, but they used this as an excuse to vastly underfund education for native persons in Labrador and northern Newfoundland, and undermined the quality of the education that people received and turned the experience of residential schooling into one of horrifying events such as the use of the cat o’ nine tails in one incident on students, something which I might have thought had gone out with piracy.

The attempt in the residential schooling system was to extinguish the language and culture of native citizens and they were subjected to impoverished conditions with poor food, poor educational opportunities, and we can see the results of this today. So that’s what that case is about.