Man's residential school claim rejected, then identified for compensation, then rejected again

Percy Wallace said he felt renewed hope when he heard his previously rejected residential school settlement claim was one of over 200 that would be compensated — a hope that was soon dashed after Crown-Indigenous Relations officials again turned down his claim. 

Wallace, 56, had been a victim of a student-on-student sexual assault at the Sechelt residential school in British Columbia, but his claim through the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), the compensation adjudication body that was created through the residential schools settlement agreement, was rejected in 2012.

In 2018, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the government would pursue negotiated settlements with former students who were abused by fellow students and whose IAP claims were rejected or did not receive fair compensation, estimating there were at least 240 student-on-student cases that would be eligible.

A federal official contacted Wallace's lawyer requesting they submit a proposal for compensation.

"When it was brought up again, after about six years or so, I had my hopes up more," said Wallace, in a phone interview with CBC News from Lil'wat First Nation, about seven kilometres north of Pemberton, B.C.

"I had a lot of anger after getting your hopes up and shot down."

Wallace attended the Sechelt school from 1974 to 1975, the last year of the institution's operations. He was transferred to St. Mary's Mission the next year. 

Student-on-student cases have a higher standard for getting compensation through the IAP. Survivors have to establish that the school or government knew or should have known that the student-on-student abuse was taking place 

This meant that student-on-student cases became stronger the more survivors testified about their experiences before the IAP and more evidence surfaced of similar incidents at the same school. 

This led Bennett to make her March 13, 2018, announcement. 

"The government believes that there are some instances where Indian residential school survivors who suffered abuse at the hands of fellow students may not have received fair compensation," said Bennett, in the statement. 

"Our government will pursue negotiated settlements with survivors whose claims of student-on-student abuse were previously dismissed or under-compensated. This action could help approximately 240 eligible former students."

'I was shocked'

Wallace's lawyer Karim Ramji said he was contacted on May 25, 2018, by a department official informing him that Wallace's case was one of the 240 identified cases and that he should submit an offer to negotiate a resolution to the claim. 

The offer was submitted on Oct. 22, 2018, and then rejected on Nov. 16, 2018, said Ramji.

"I was shocked  … It's the government that initiated that process," said Ramji. "The government is the one that reached out to my client to make an offer." 

Ramji said that 11 other student-on-student cases surfaced after Wallace filed for compensation with the IAP. 

"I truly believed they meet the test," he said. 

However, the department didn't agree. Ramji then wrote three letters to Bennett requesting that she intervene, apologize and provide $110,000 in compensation to Wallace — the last letter sent in September 2019 — to little avail. 

"My officials have thoroughly reviewed your client's file, as well as the full list of admissions for the Indian residential school he attended," wrote Martin Reiher, assistant deputy minister of resolution and individual affairs with the Crown-Indigenous Relations department, in a Dec.13, 2019, dated letter. 

"Unfortunately there are no new student-on-student admissions from this school which would change the results of your client's claim."

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Bennett's office said in an emailed statement that the department would take a look at the case again. 

"The mistreatment of Indigenous peoples is a tragic and shameful part of Canada's history. Canada is committed to working with survivors to find fair solutions to issues that have arisen outside of the [residential school settlement agreement]," said the statement.

"We are committed to justice, healing and doing what is right for survivors. The department is currently reviewing this matter."

Bennett's office did not respond to a question on how many of the 240 cases deemed eligible received compensation. 

Ramji said the department handled the issue in a callous way with little regard to the impact the about-face would have on his client.

"When you are dealing with victims of trauma, the process is often more important than the result," said Ramji.

"If the government is saying this is all about reconciliation, then how do you have someone revictimized again in this way?" 

Ramji said Bennett needs to step in and resolve the issue. 

"There is a huge gap between what the minister is announcing publicly and what the bureaucrats are doing quietly," he said. 

Wallace said he has no hope left that he'll ever get justice.

"It put me in as much pain, if not more, from what I went through in boarding school," he said. 

Wallace said he wouldn't want to ever meet the minister to discuss his case. 

"I wouldn't want the opportunity because of what I might say," he said.