The Canadian press reports that government officials will move faster to compensate those abused in Indian residential schools. But critics warn victims caught in a sluggish process are dying off.

“We’re making a lot of progress out there,” said Shawn Tupper, director general for Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada. Since the department was set up last June, the government has settled 183 abuse cases out of court. That represents 40 per cent of 447 cases resolved since 1996.

The government has spent more than $37 million on compensation, with settlements ranging from $15,000 to more than $300,000. The highest awards have been won in court for cases of severe abuse. More than 4,500 lawsuits have been launched representing at least 9,000 claimants who allege physical or sexual abuse in the now defunct schools run by Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian church groups for the government.

Fifty cases have been resolved since October when Ottawa offered to pay 70 per cent of validated claims settled out of court, Tupper said. The church groups agreed to pay the balance in 40 of those cases, he said.

Plaintiffs can pursue the religious orders in court where the settlement Is challenged, he explained.

Lawyer Tony Merchant, whose Ftegina-based firm represents 5,200 residential school plaintiffs, said he has handled 10 out-of-court settlements. He advised most clients to go for better deals in court.

“There’s greater pressure on someone with little money to accept a bad settlement.” Merchant’s firm will represent cash-strapped clients at trial for up to 40 per cent of an eventual award. It keeps 15 to 25 per cent of settlements reached out of court. Many plaintiffs are willing to accept a lesser amount for faster emotional closure. More than 70 of his clients have died before their cases could be resolved. Merchant added.

Traumatized plaintiffs are frequently interviewed two or three times by government lawyers, and must see psychologists chosen by Ottawa, he said.

It’s estimated that more than 100,000 aboriginal children aged six and up attended the national network of residential schools from 1930 until the last one closed outside Regina in 1996.

Source: Canadian Press