A class-action lawsuit against the federal government is underway for Indigenous students who attended day schools. It seeks damages for every Indigenous student who attended, an estimated 100,000 such people are alive. The lawsuit could result in a payout of at least $5 billion.
They seek compensation for being forced to attend school and learn English, being subjected to discipline, and, being denied to learn in their native languages. The complaints perfectly describe my own public school education in the 1950s. I too was forced to attend school. Yet, compulsory education was a huge advance, allowing western countries to progress at a hitherto unimaginable rate.
And yes, in the very early years of compulsory schooling, caning was routine — in the 1950s the strap was a regular piece of equipment. I knew that strap quite well. Those methods are no longer employed, but those who went to school in those days can testify that they certainly were used and their use had nothing to do with the racial or ethnic background of the student.
The complaint about being forced to learn English also applies in my case. Teaching English was very important, my classmates coming from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds in north Winnipeg. It was a basic aim that students learn to be fluent in spoken and written English. That aim has not changed — and for very good reasons.
It would have been impossible for public schools to teach fluency in native languages — there were too many ethnic languages involved, with more than 60 distinct Indigenous languages. Even if publicly funded schools had the capability of teaching ethnic languages, this would have been regarded as a rather esoteric pursuit. Learning English was a way of allowing children to have a better chance at succeeding in a modern world. And that education worked, the Marshall McLuhans and Murray Sinclairs of the past few generations testify to its success.
This latest Indigenous class-action lawsuit will likely never reach the courts. Every “qualifying” person will be lavishly compensated without even the need to prove his or her case. That is what happened in the case of former residential school students. They got $10,000 for every year they spent in the schools — those who actually proved damages received a lot more.
This also happened with the so-called ’60s Scoop “survivors.“ Without having to prove a thing, the government promised to pay each such person $35,000 — even for those who had been rescued from awful homes to be raised in good ones. This is what will probably also happen in the case of missing and murdered Indigenous women — families will receive huge cheques, even for families that the missing women fled from for their own protection. As for the day school survivors, expect the federal government to settle — a gold mine for up to 100,000 people, but yet another kick in the teeth to taxpayers forced to pay more billions to special interest groups.
The real abuse here, again, is to taxpayers.