Funding gap puts survivors at risk

As Ottawa’s residential-school settlement prepares to pay some 80,000 survivors billions in compensation dollars, the Committee on Abuse In…

As Ottawa’s residential-school settlement prepares to pay some 80,000 survivors billions in compensation dollars, the Committee on Abuse In Residential Schools is about to run out of money.

“It just makes no sense to those of us on the front line,” said executive director Kevin Barr last week.

The problem appears to be a breakdown in the federal bureaucracy.

CAIRS is predominantly funded by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, as are 144 other programs for residential-school survivors across Canada.

As part of Ottawa’s $1.9-billion residential schools settlement package, the foundation will receive $125 million from Ottawa to continue funding healing programs.

But the money won’t be released until November 1.

That will force CAIRS and countless other organizations helping residential school survivors, to close their doors at the end of the fiscal year in March, just as the settlement cheques are mailed out.

“You’ve already allocated this money, but you’re just not going to give it until November 1st,” said a frustrated Barr.  “This at a time when you’re also handing down all this other stuff, and it’s there.”

Ottawa could easily transfer funding to the groups to carry them the next six months.

But it is not doing that.

“It would be a paper shuffle and raises a lot of questions about why they can’t do that. It just seems absurd,” said Barr

Last week, nine judges approved court orders to move the settlement (which has been embroiled in bureaucratic and legal wrangling) forward.

All living former students will receive a $10,000 “common-experience” payment for a loss of language and culture at the schools.

School survivors will receive $3,000 for each year beyond the first year at a school.

The maximum a survivor can receive is about $40,000.

It isn’t clear exactly when the money will start to arrive.

In addition to money earmarked for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the agreement will create a $60-million “Truth and Reconciliation” fund to create an historical record of survivors and their stories.

Barr worries what will happen to elders who receive a huge cheque.

“I think a lot times we think that money is the answer to our problems and once we get it we’re not going to have any problems,” he said. “Once you figure out that’s not the problem, everything’s gone or you’re in a whole lot more trouble.

“There’s going to be a lot of finances coming into the territory and that could raise the drinking, which then could raise family violence and different abuse.

“There’s going to be a need for a place for people to come and sort that out.”

Many survivors have never had a bank account and will struggle with the impacts of such large amounts of money, he said.

Elders who receive money could be abused, or have their money stolen, said Barr.

CAIRS has been creating programs to help survivors cope with the changes, but will not be able to remain open until more money arrives in November, he said.

The group is exploring the possibility of bridge funding from the Yukon government, said Barr.

Barr and others have known for many months that funding would be tight.

But they expected it to last about two months and trimmed their budgets accordingly.

Just last week Barr discovered the gap is now six months or more.

“This is a big surprise, it’s a very big uncertainty,” he said.

While the main settlement package appears to finally be on the rails, those who suffered physical and sexual abuse at residential schools must still undergo lengthy hearings to make claims.

The government has committed enough money to hear about 2,500 cases per year.

But the process has not started and experts expect it could take decades.

A significant portion of the estimated 80,000 living survivors of residential schools that suffered such abuse are aging, sick and in some cases, dying.

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