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News Release

Assembly of First Nations

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde called today's ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in J.W. v. Canada (Attorney General) an important victory that helps ensure fairness and justice for survivors of the Indian residential schools. The Assembly of First Nations was a party in the case, arguing on behalf of survivors and for the fair application of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), negotiated by the Assembly of First Nations.

"This Supreme Court decision is a victory for survivors of the Indian residential schools and a victory for justice and healing," said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. "The Assembly of First Nations has always stood with survivors of the residential schools, right from the outset by leading negotiations on the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement through to today's decision. We continue to push for justice, healing and reconciliation from the legacy of the schools, including our work on legislation that will strengthen our languages and legislation that gives First Nations responsibility over child welfare. We want to move out from under the long shadow of the residential schools through a shared commitment, but we will not hesitate to use the courts when we have to stand up for survivors and for justice."

The Assembly of First Nations supported "J.W.", a residential school survivor, and other claimants involved in the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, who have systematically been denied compensation under a category known as SL1 claims (which involve acts such as sexual touching). Some adjudicators were requiring Independent Assessment Process Claimants to prove the motive or sexual intent of a perpetrator in assessing these claims, which is a higher standard than that used under criminal law.

The Majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held that the initial adjudicator's decision constituted an unauthorized modification of the Independent Assessment Process and this and other errors were compounded by the adjudicator's misinterpretation of the criminal case law with respect to sexual assault. As a result, the adjudicator's conduct amounted to a failure to apply or implement the terms of the Agreement, warranting judicial intervention to ensure that the benefits promised in the Agreement were delivered.

"This is an important decision by Canada's highest court that will ensure the Settlement Agreement is respected and upheld," said Assembly of First Nations Northwest Territories Regional Chief Norman Yakeleya, who oversees the Assembly of First Nations's work on residential schools. "In addition to respecting the agreement and the law, this will help ensure survivors of the schools are not unfairly burdened in their journey to justice and healing."

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was initiated by the Assembly of First Nations and came into effect in 2007. It is the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow the Assembly of First Nations on Twitter @AFN_Updates.