The number of former residential school students claiming compensation through the Independent Assessment Process for physical, sexual and emotional abuse is forecast to be more than two times higher than originally predicted.
With an increase of applications expected from now until the deadline date of Sept. 19, it is believed that close to 30,000 former students will have submitted claims.
When the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) was signed in 2006, it was estimated that 12,500 students would be seeking compensation through the IAP.
Whatever the final number turns out to be, everyone applying will be dealt with fairly and compassionately, said Daniel Ish, chief adjudicator for the IAP.
“This is one of my primary concerns, that the increased numbers don’t affect the quality of the hearings.” He said it is his job that the claimants’ experiences are not “watered down, because we have to do more hearings,” said Ish.
Ish was not present when the parties to the IRSSA set 12,500 as the number for IAP applications, but he understands that the figure was based on a study of students who attended British boarding schools, which indicated 15 per cent were criminally abused. There is an estimated 80,000 Indian residential school survivors still alive.
Ish said the system to deal with IAP claims was set up based on the estimated figure. When application numbers did not decline after 2007 as anticipated, but remained steady, more staff was hired and the number of adjudicators increased from 70 to 108. As resolution health support workers are contracted by the federal government, Ish said he is unaware if those numbers increased. He said adjudicators always request that support workers be present or nearby when an IAP hearing is held.
James Scott, general council officer with the United Church, figures claimant numbers did not taper off because residential school survivors found the IAP process to be a “user-friendly… non-adversarial, non-confrontational approach. A number of people were initially hesitant to tell their stories … and they needed to know that that process was going to be respectful and going to be some benefit in terms of their healing.”
The United Church, along with the Presbyterian and Anglican churches and the Catholic Entities, were party to the IRSSA with the federal government. The United Church operated 14 residential schools, all of which are recognized in the IRSSA list of schools. As signatories to the agreement, the churches have the right to attend IAP hearings.
However, said Scott, who has worked with residential school survivors for the past eight years and has attended a few hearings, the United Church, along with the other two protestant churches, always seek permission from the claimant before attending a hearing in which their church ran the residential school attended by the claimant. If the claimant is amenable, a church representative sits through the hearing. When the hearing is adjourned, the representative apologizes on behalf of the church.
Ish said the personal apology issued from a church representative is important for claimants.
“It all works together, this kind of team approach. I really believe there’s a healing element for the claimant that occurs by hearing both Canada make an apology at the hearing and the church,” said Ish. He noted that the Catholic Entities do not usually have a representative at hearings in which the claimant attended a Catholic-run residential school.
Ish does not believe false claims have caused the higher IAP numbers. While false claims are inevitable, Ish said adjudicators are good at “testing the evidence.” He does note that ‘zero’ claim decisions are increasing, but he attributes that to the stronger cases having been heard earlier and the weaker cases now coming forward.
Weaker, Ish said, doesn’t mean the claims are false only that the evidence put forward cannot be proved on the civil standard.
Ish points out that survivors are quick to set the record straight.
“Sometimes it’s not the claimant who exaggerates but it’s whoever filled out the application form that exaggerated it. There have been so many incidences where the claimants have had an opportunity to embellish their claims and don’t take it and instead do the opposite,” he said.
There are companies – a large number in particular in Manitoba – that market their services for a fee to claimants to fill out the IAP forms. Sometimes the forms are not filled out accurately, which comes out at the hearing, said Ish.
Scott said the IAP is not about the money for residential school survivors.
“Aboriginal people themselves, I’ve heard over and over again very wisely, say that money doesn’t bring healing, but hopefully the telling of the story, and hopefully the validation of the story … will,” he said.
While the IRSSA budgeted $1.9 billion for the Common Experience Payment, with an average of $20,500 awarded to applicants, there is no budgeted figure for IAP payments.
“The IAP remains open-ended, which is highly unusual in a class action settlement,” said Ish.
The budget for the entire IRSSA was set at $3.2 billion. However, with IAP claimants more than doubled, the federal government will have to come up with more money. The churches fixed their financial contribution to the IRSSA.
“Canada committed itself to pay whatever was necessary to complete all of the claims based on the rules set out in the IAP,” said Ish.
That the number of students criminally abused is so high “is tragic,” said Scott. “It communicates even more profoundly … the extent of damage done. Clearly we understood that all former students who went to residential schools experienced the generic harm being away from their families and [not] being taught their culture and their heritage and their language was no good. What I think the whole country is coming to see is that a much higher proportion of students also experienced criminal harm …. It’s always been hard to understand how children in church-run schools where the commitment of many people in the schools was to the Christian gospel could have been so deeply abused.”
Ish expects that it will take until 2015 for the final IAP claims to be settled, considering psychological assessments, if required, can take up to six months.