N.S. Colored Home Settles Abuse Class Action: But no apology

by John McKiggan

Proposed Settlement in Class Action

The Chronicle Herald reported last week that a class action launched by former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has been settled for $5,000,000.

According to the media reports, there are about 140 former residents participating in the class action. The residents’ claim against the Province of Nova Scotia has not been settled, and it is still making its way through the Courts.

I know that resolving this claim is likely to provide a great deal of relief, and closure, to the class members. One of the class members, Troy Smith was quoted as saying the group’s financial demands were higher but they decided to settle for less because they didn’t want to force the sale of the Home’s property:

“We could have easily gone after the land and the value of the land, and we took the high road, because we do know that the home itself has historical significance to some people in the community,” said Smith.

I give credit to Mr. Smith and the other class members for the approach they took in trying to resolve the claim.

No apology

One issue regarding the settlement with the Colored Home that caught my attention was the fact that it does not include an apology. Counsel for the class members indicated that when they looked at the wording of the proposed apology, they felt it was insufficiently sincere so they decided to proceed with the settlement in the absence of the formal apology.

One of the class members said “a half-hearted apology was worse than none at all”.

I have to say, I agree.

Apologies have value

There is no doubt that apologies given as part of litigation, or to resolve litigation, can have significant value to claimants.

In a presentation I gave to the Canadian Institute’s National Conference on Institutional Abuse titled Safe to Say You’re Sorry: The Psychology of Apology, I reviewed research that proves apologies can have the effect of reducing litigation and increasing satisfaction on the part of plaintiffs with respect to the results of the litigation.

Class counsel for the former residents of the Home for Colored Children said that they decided to proceed without an apology because they did not think the proposed terms of the apology were sincere. There is no doubt that the sincerity of an apology (or lack thereof) is an important fact whether an apology will actually be of value to resulting litigation.

National Residential School Settlement

I had the honour of representing Nora Bernard and the former residents of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. I also participated in the negotiations that led to the landmark National Indian Residential Schools class action settlement. That process remains the largest abuse compensation settlement anywhere in the world.

Apology by National Leaders

A critical part of the class action settlement was the formal apology that was given to residential survivors on behalf of the Canadian government and all of the churches involved. I vividly remember watching the televised event where the Prime Minister of Canada and all of the leaders of the opposition parties, and the heads of all of the churches that signed the agreement offered their formal apologies to the residential school survivors.

The apologies were, in my view, sincere and heartfelt, and watching the faces of the residential school survivors in the room with me, I could tell that, for many of them, this was the most important part of the claims resolution process.

Individual Apologies to Survivors

Furthermore, any survivor that proceeds through an individual compensation hearing has the opportunity to receive a formal apology from a representative of Canada, as well as receiving a written apology signed by the Prime Minister of Canada. I know many of my clients have framed their copy of the apology.

Conclusion, but not an end…

I am pleased that any of the former residents of the Home for Colored Children who suffered abuse will, finally, have an opportunity to receive some measure of compensation. I commend the class members and their dedicated legal counsel.

However, as I have told all of my historical abuse clients for the past 23 years, no amount of money is ever going to make them forget or erase what happened. Financial compensation is simply a measure of recognition that the abuse was wrong.

For most of my clients, a legitimate and heartfelt apology is more important than the number of zeros on any compensation cheque.

Want More Information?

For more than twenty years, I have represented hundreds of victims of childhood sexual abuse in claims for compensation. I frequently represent victims who suffered abuse at the hands of priests or other religious authorities.

I have written a resource guide to help educate survivors about their legal rights. You can receive a free copy of Breaking the Silence: The Survivor’s Guide to Abuse Compensation Claims by contacting me through this blog, or my website at www.apmlawyers.com or by calling toll free in Atlantic Canada 1-877-423-2050.

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