I Was Abused in a Residential School

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From the latter part of the 19th century until late into the 20th century, the Government of Canada and various churches operated Residential Schools for Aboriginal children throughout Canada. For a large portion of that time, Aboriginal parents were compelled to send their children to these schools, thereby removing the children from their communities and their culture. In addition, many students were subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse while attending a Residential School.

For years, a person had to sue in court to get compensation for abuse suffered in a Residential School. Then, between 2007 and 2012 the federal government and various church entities agreed to provide compensation through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The Settlement Agreement provided for a Common Experience Payment based on the number of years a survivor attended the school, and compensation for certain types of sexual or serious physical or psychological abuse through an Independent Assessment Process. The deadlines for applying for Common Experience Payments and compensation through the Independent Assessment Process have now passed, so:

  • If you applied for compensation through the Independent Assessment Process, you have to follow through with that process. You cannot sue in court.
  • If you did not apply for compensation through the Independent Assessment Process, you may still be able to sue in court for compensation for the abuse you suffered, even if you did apply for or receive a Common Experience Payment.

First steps[edit]

Speak with a lawyer that practices “personal injury” law. Many of them are listed on the internet or in the yellow pages of the phone book. Some of them do not charge for the first interview, but you need to ask about that when you make your appointment.

What happens next[edit]

In order to advise you properly, the lawyer will have to ask you personal questions about the abuse, especially the type of abuse, when and where it took place and when you first started thinking about it as an adult. The lawyer needs to ask these questions to make sure that you are not too late to sue because of Limitation Act in the Province or Territory where the abuse occurred.

Some lawyers take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they will only collect fees if your case is successful. Ask about that possibility at your interview.

Because bringing up the past may be difficult, make sure you have emotional and psychological support. You may wish to contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066. The Society provides counselling services and referrals to other services near you. You may also wish to contact Health Canada's Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program at 1-877-477-0775, or the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

Where to get help[edit]

See the Resource List for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:

Before meeting with a lawyer or advocate, complete the form Preparing for Your Interview included in this Guide. Make sure you bring copies of all documents relating to your case.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Cliff Thorstenson, April 2017.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.