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Quebec judge authorizes class action lawsuit alleging abuse at Indigenous day schools

MONTREAL — A Quebec Superior Court judge has authorized a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Indigenous people who allege they received lower-quality education than other Quebecers at day schools where abuse was rampant. 

Thousands of First Nations and Inuit children were required by the provincial or federal government to attend the schools. 

“The plaintiffs assert that the day school system had a stated goal of cultural assimilation and that the children who attended them were victims of acculturation as well as, for many, psychological, physical and sexual abuse by teachers, administrators, other employees and other children at these schools,” Justice Sylvain Lussier wrote in his Dec. 8 decision. 

The lawsuit includes all First Nations people who were required between 1951 and 2014 to attend day schools that were run by the Quebec government and its school boards in Indigenous communities for the federal government. 

It also includes all Inuit who were required to attend Quebec government-run schools in their communities between 1963 and 1978.

Lussier said the plaintiffs allege the way the schools were run intentionally violated their rights to integrity, dignity and safety, as well to maintain and advance their cultural life with members of their community, as guaranteed by Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Two representative plaintiffs, identified as J.J. and A. Je. in court documents, both allege they suffered abuse at the schools. 

A. Je., who attended an on-reserve school in Lac Simon, Que., which was run by a school board based in the nearby city of Val-d’Or, Que., on behalf of the federal government. 

In court documents, A. Je. described the climate at the school she attended between 1972, when she was four years old, and 1982 as “hellish” and “like a residential school inside the community.”

“While she attended the Lac Simon school, A. Je. suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of school employees. She also witnessed such about being inflicted on other students,” according to a summary of the allegations in Lussier’s decision. 

Non-Indigenous students who attended the school were not subject to the same violence and were allowed to physically attack Indigenous students, while Indigenous students were severely punished if they attacked a non-Indigenous student, according to the summary. 

In 2019, the federal government settled with survivors of federally-run schools for $1.47 billion, however that settlement didn’t include provincially-run schools, such as those in Quebec. 

The class action is seeking at least $20,000 in damages for every person who was forced to attend the schools, as well as for their direct family members. 

It seeks additional damages for people who suffered specific abuse. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2023. 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press


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