Feb 3/98: Civil lawsuit against UC, Canada



The Province
February 3, 1998, p. A4
Suzanne Fournier

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

NANAIMO - Tears and rage filled a courtroom here yesterday on the opening day of Canada's first civil lawsuit on residential school abuse. This is the first time most of the 30 plaintiffs - who have launched a civil lawsuit against the federal government and the United Church will testify in court. They were spared that when abuser Arthur Plint pleaded guilty in 1995 and 1997. In an opening statement, plaintiffs lawyer Peter Grant noted the federal government has called the suit "a case of national importance."

"It's the first case of many hundreds related to the residential school system will be addressed by the courts of this country." If the 29 men and one woman win damages, "literally thousands and thousands of survivors all over Canada" are waiting to sue, he said. Outside court, Grant said damages could be in the range of $100,000 to $600,000 for each plaintiff. Grant said he will call 12 witnesses to make the plaintiffs' case that "Canada and the United Church were engaged in a joint venture" and share liability for abuse at the Alberni Residential School.

Speaking in a low, angry voice, pausing to wipe his eyes or take a deep breath, William Blackwater told of being put on a bus at age 10 for the trip from Prince Rupert to the Alberni school. Along the way, the bus picked up small boys who faced him yesterday as grown men in the front row of the courtroom. Blackwater, now 47, said Plint molested him after only a week at school, anally raped him two weeks later, then sexually assaulted him once a week for three years. "That was the worst pain I ever felt in my life," he said.

Other survivors, and many United Church supporters, wept openly in the courtroom. Outside court, Gilbert Johnson, like Blackwater a Gitxsan from Kispiox in northern B.C. said he was torn away from his home and sent to Alberni. "Where is my education? Where is my knowledge?" shouted Johnson. "I'm an illiterate Indian."

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