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Lawsuit alleging residential school abuse filed with Yukon Supreme Court

Sexual abuse at Stringer Hall in Inuvik and Yukon Hall in Whitehorse claimed in court documents

The following story contains distressing details of physical, psychological and sexual abuse at residential schools. Yukoners in Whitehorse and the communities can schedule rapid access counselling at 1-867-456-3838. The national Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

A lawsuit that will be heard in Yukon Supreme Court shows the process of reckoning with the legacy of Canada’s residential school system is not over.

The lawsuit filed by a plaintiff whose name is anonymous on court documents alleges a variety of abuse dating back to the 1960s and 1970s at two residential schools, one in the Yukon and one in the Northwest Territories. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the attorney general of Canada, two organizations within the Anglican Church of Canada, two individuals who worked at the schools but are not named and three unnamed students.

The plaintiff, identified as a citizen of a Yukon First Nation, was sent to Stringer Hall, a residential school in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The statement of claim filed with the Yukon Supreme Court states she was born in 1961 and removed from her mother’s care and taken to the school in 1965. It notes that her mother had become pregnant while at the same school.

The lawsuit, filed on March 2, alleges the plaintiff was sexually abused by an adult female supervisor at Stringer Hall.

The plaintiff was sent to the Yukon Hall School in Whitehorse in 1978 and attended school there until 1980. Allegations from this time period include sexual assault by other students that the plaintiff claims was abetted by a male staff member who did not take the necessary steps to keep the plaintiff and others safe from harm.

The claim filed with the courts states this staff member provided students at Yukon Hall with alcohol and encouraged its consumption. The plaintiff alleges the staff member knew or ought to have known that sexual abuse was taking place, that the young and vulnerable students at the school were susceptible to abuse of drugs and alcohol and that the lack of supervision or security in the sleeping quarters of the school created a dangerous situation and a greater likelihood of sexual abuse.

The lawsuit seeks to hold the Government of Canada or the Anglican Church branches vicariously liable for the sexual abuse the plaintiffs claims occurred during her time at the two residential schools, depending on who employed the school staff members referred to in the suit.

The allegations in the lawsuit have not been heard or proven in court. When the case does proceed, Daniel Shier, whose law office is representing the plaintiff, said it will be far from the only account of abuse at residential schools heard by Canadian courts since the conclusion of the residential school compensation process.

Residential school survivors in Canada were compensated via a settlement agreement that began its implementation in 2007. A common experience payment for all eligible former residential school students was paid and an Independent Assessment Process (IAP) where claims of sexual or serious physical abuse were heard and additional compensation was meted out.

Shier said survivors had to opt in to the process and could retain the rights to make an individual claim at law if they didn’t participate in the settlement agreement process.

While he said there was good outreach about the settlement agreement and a lot of claims were settled through it, Shier added that some survivors held off on making a claim. He said this delay could be for many different reasons including just not being in the space to undertake the claim process that involves revisiting traumatic life events.

With the settlement agreement’s timeline at an end, claims in court are now the only way for abused residential school survivors to get compensated if they haven’t already.

Shier noted the differences in language and implementation between the residential school settlement and the class-action law settlement for survivors of the ‘60s scoop which saw its final payments approved last year. The ‘60s scoop saw practices under child welfare law between 1951 and 1991 place numerous Canadian Indigenous children into largely non-Indigenous adopted homes leading to a loss of cultural identity for the adoptees.

Rather than being an opt in process, ‘60s scoop survivors who wanted to bring an individual legal claim, had to opt out of the settlement within 90 days of the settlement’s approval by the federal court that heard the class action. Those who didn’t opt out and received a settlement automatically released Canada from any further liability based on the terms of the settlement agreement.

Shier said the information about this process that went out to affected people and communities prior to the end of the opt out period was very limited.

Another frontier of compensation for victims of the residential school system is the conclusion of the claims process under a class action representing students of Indian day schools, which were the site of many of the same types of abuse as residential schools, this January. A $2.8-billion settlement payment in this case was approved by the federal government last month.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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