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Trudeau to apologize for residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to questions from reporters after kayaking at Sidney Spit in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, east of Sidney, B.C., on Aug. 5, 2017.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will apologize to former students of residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Prime Minister's Office confirmed Thursday that Trudeau will apologize in Labrador. An exact date and location have not been confirmed but an update is expected later this summer.

'Ultimately, it's the right thing to do," Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for the prime minister, said Thursday.

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"We're committed to reconciliation. We're committed to implementing the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ... that's why we made this decision."

Former prime minister Stephen Harper excluded the province's former residential schools from a national apology and compensation package in 2008. But lawyers for about 800 former students argued Ottawa owed the same duty of care to them after the province joined Confederation in 1949.

The Trudeau government offered a $50-million package to settle claims of sexual and physical abuse along with loss of language and culture.

"The apology in 2008 made it seem like we didn't exist and that we didn't suffer in the same way that our fellow survivors across the nation suffered. We suffered as much as anyone and an apology, to me and other survivors, will go a long way towards our healing. Maybe I can finally put that tortured inner child to rest," survivor Toby Obed said in statement.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Steven Cooper said Thursday federal representatives agreed at an Aug. 3 meeting in Goose Bay that survivors, their families and communities would be consulted on the apology.

"We recognize that the Prime Minister has many competing obligations and we sincerely appreciate that he will be working with us towards correcting the historic injustice of the residential school system generally and to the specific goal of correcting the incomplete and hurtful apology rendered by his predecessor in 2008," said Cooper.

The $50-million settlement, approved by a judge last September, ended a 10-year legal fight.

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Aboriginal students who attended the schools after the province joined Confederation in 1949 would be eligible for compensation so long as they were alive as of Nov. 23, 2006 – one year before litigation began. The estates of those who have died since the 2006 cutoff could apply, Cooper said.

Students who lived in school residences for less than five years would be eligible for $15,000 in general compensation, while those who lived there five years or more would be eligible for $20,000. Approval would be based on a streamlined, trust-based application process overseen by a judge, Cooper said.

One in 10 applications will be randomly audited, he added, noting that attendance records are often scant.

Compensation for sexual or significant physical abuse could be up to $200,000 and must be based on sworn testimony.

About 120 class members died waiting for a resolution.

The schools were located in North West River, Cartwright, Nain and Makkovik – all in Labrador – and St. Anthony, in northern Newfoundland. The International Grenfell Association ran three of the schools, while the German-based Moravian missionaries ran the other two.

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Lawyers from three law firms who worked on nine applications over the last decade are asking for one-third of the $50-million.

In July 2016, one claimant said a prime ministerial apology was more important to many former residential school students in Newfoundland and Labrador than compensation payments, and would clear the way for true healing and reconciliation.

Video: Regina residential school cemetery designated a heritage site (The Canadian Press)
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