Lawsuit gathers input from former day school students

Eric Plummer, January 17, 2018

For generations Canada's aboriginal children who did not go to residential school were required to attend Indian day schools, like in the above 1905 photo from Kamloops, B.C. Now a class action lawsuit is underway for abuse claimed by some former students. (Canadian Parliament archives photo)

When the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement came into effect a decade ago the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history took place, comprising billions in federal compensation for generations of institutionalized abuse and violence.

Now another court proceeding is growing in claimants, including those who attended Indian day schools in Nuu-chah-nulth territories. The Indian Day School Class Action is seeking compensation for the thousands of indigenous people left out of the residential school settlement. These former students were required to attend Indian day schools, institutions mandated by the Government of Canada’s Indian Act which were often run by the same religious organizations that operated residential schools.

Day schools were located on or near First Nations reserves, and those that operated in Nuu-chah-nulth territories include schools in the Yuquot, Opitsaht, Kyuquot, Ucluelet, Tseshaht and Ahousaht communities.  Although day schools did not house children who were taken from their home communities, stories from some former students claim abuse similar to what marred the residential school system.

Gary Leslie McLean began the legal action in 2009 for abuses he recounts from the Dog Creek Day School, which McLean attended from 1957-65 at Lake Manitoba.

“I did not know how to speak English when I first started day school,” said McLean on a website that details the class action. “I was discouraged from speaking my native language, Saulteaux. If I spoke my native language in school, I was forced to kneel, face the corner of the classroom and repeat words which I later realized were prayers. I was forced to do this for lengthy periods of time as punishment and many times my mouth was washed with Sunlight soap. If I moved from the corner, I would be strapped.”

McLean and other claimants have accused the day schools of allowing them to be sexually abused as well. Gowling WLG, the legal firm managing the lawsuit, recently sent a letter to a Nuu-chah-nulth member asking the former day school student to cite any past abuse, ranging from “hitting, ear pulling, strapping, etc.” to “severe physical abuse (loss of consciousness, impairment, hospital treatment, scars, etc.).” The letter also asks for information about any other emotional, mental or sexual abuse received.