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Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 06:22 GMT 07:22 UK
Canadian natives sue churches

By Lee Carter in Toronto

Five native Indians in Canada have launched a lawsuit seeking compensation on behalf of thousands of children who suffered abuse at church-run schools in the province of Ontario.

Between the 1930s and the 1970s, native Indian children were sent to the schools that were run by churches in an attempt to assimilate them into Christian non-native society.

The plaintiffs, who attended residentials schools in northern Ontario, are seeking damages for many alleged abuses, both physical and sexual. The suit claims damages totalling more than US$8bn.

It has now been well documented that many native Indian children suffered appalling treatment at these schools with the abuse ranging from rapes to electric shock treatment as punishment to beatings and solitary confinement.

Suppressing native culture

Expressions of native culture were frequently and routinely punished.

The lawsuit names Ontario's Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, which ran the schools under a mandate set out by the Canadian government.

The government is accused of forcing children to attend these institutions without supervising them properly.

A lawyer who helped organise the lawsuit says that he has a list of at least 100 more plaintiffs who fall under the class definition of this lawsuit.

More claims expected

Since this particular legal action is restricted to only one of Canada's 12 provinces and territories, even more claims are expected.

Only a few days ago, Canada's justice minister, Anne MacLellan, was asking all sides in the matter to sit down and discuss a settlement without using the courts.

Her pleas have clearly been ignored. Several of the churches who have already given out millions of dollars in private settlements to former students of the schools say they face bankruptcy if the expected tide of legal actions continue.

But the plaintiffs say the school system inflicted incalculable damage on several generations of Indian children and that the schools amounted to a conspiracy between the churches and the Canadian government to eliminate native culture.

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See also:

28 Oct 98 | Americas
Church apologises for abuse
18 Jun 00 | Americas
Sued Canada churches seek bail-out
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