Class Actions

Île-à-la-Crosse Residential School Class Action —

This proposed class action against the Governments of Canada and Saskatchewan relates to the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school, which was excluded from previous residential school class action settlements. The plaintiffs are suing for damages on behalf of all school survivors and their family members.

Case Overview

**Warning this summary contains information about child sexual and physical abuse**

The Île-à-la-Crosse residential school (sometimes called the Île-à-la-Crosse “Mission school” or “boarding school”) was one of the oldest residential schools in Canada, operating between 1860 and 1976. A total of approximately 1,500 students, predominantly Métis children from across Northern Saskatchewan, attended the school.

This proposed class action lawsuit, called Gardiner v. Canada, is brought on behalf of:

  • any Aboriginal person, being a person whose rights are recognized and affirmed by the Constitution Act, 1982, s. 35, who attended as a student or for educational purposes at the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school (the “Survivor Class” or “Survivor Class Members”); and
  • any spouse, parent, child, grandchild, or sibling of a Survivor Class Member, or the surviving spouse of a deceased Survivor Class Member (the “Family Class” or “Family Class Members”).

Survivor Class Members include all day students/day schoolers (individuals who attended at the School during the day and slept somewhere else), and all residential/boarding students. Survivor Class Members are also included whether they are Métis or First Nation.

Although the shameful and painful history of Canadian residential schools has now been well-publicized, and there has been legal recognition for some of the damage caused by colonial schooling systems, Métis experiences and survivors have been consistently excluded.

The Île-à-la-Crosse residential school operated in the same fashion as other residential schools. It was run by Roman Catholic religious groups, with government funding and oversight. Like all residential school survivors, the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors were forced or coerced to attend residential school, then forcibly confined and deprived of their heritage, their support networks and their way of life, forced to adopt a foreign language and culture, and punished severely for non-compliance. They were subjected to systematic child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment, and often endured psychological, physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of teachers, administrators and other school employees.

Nevertheless, the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school was excluded from both the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the Day Schools Settlement Agreement. Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors have not received any acknowledgement of, or compensation for the harms they endured as a result of their experiences at this residential school.

The plaintiffs in this action are four Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors, and two children of survivors representing the Family Class. They are calling on Canada and Saskatchewan to acknowledge the injustices that have been done to the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors, and provide compensation for their harms. Legally speaking, the plaintiffs allege that both Canada and Saskatchewan breached fiduciary, statutory and common law duties owed to the Class Members, and claim general, aggravated, and punitive damages.

To learn more, please view the Frequently Asked Questions in the “Documents” Tab.

Merchant Law Group Class Action

This proposed class action lawsuit is not the same lawsuit as the one started by Merchant Law Group in 2005. Over the last 17 years, that lawsuit has been stalled, and nothing has been done to help survivors – many of whom have died during this long and unnecessary delay.

Because the Merchant Law Group lawsuit is going nowhere, and because it is so important to obtain justice for survivors before more are lost, the Île-à-la-Crosse Boarding School Steering Committee (a Survivor-led group which is dedicated to advocating for Survivors of the Île-à-la-Crosse School) and the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan hired our law firm to start this new lawsuit.

Almost all of the surviving plaintiffs from the Merchant Law Group lawsuit have fired Merchant Law Group and hired our firm. They support this new lawsuit and want it to go forward as the only class action for the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors. Merchant Law Group will not be part of this lawsuit, whether it is fought in court or there are settlements with Canada and/or Saskatchewan.

The plaintiffs in this action will be applying to the Court in Saskatoon to stay  the Merchant Law Group lawsuit. A stay means that the Merchant action will be put to a stop, and only this action will proceed on behalf of the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors.


Hope for Wellness Help Line

Emotional and crisis support is available to Survivors and intergenerational Survivors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 & Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or the online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

Counselling is available in English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, on request.

National Indian Residential School Crisis Line

Contact the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

Other resources

You can also access ongoing mental health resources in your region.

Case Overview

**Warning this summary contains information about child sexual and physical abuse**

The Île-à-la-Crosse residential school (sometimes called the Île-à-la-Crosse “Mission school” or “boarding school”) was one of the oldest residential schools in Canada, operating between 1860 and 1976. A total of approximately 1,500 students, predominantly Métis children from across Northern Saskatchewan, attended the school.

This proposed class action lawsuit, called Gardiner v. Canada, is brought on behalf of:

  • any Aboriginal person, being a person whose rights are recognized and affirmed by the Constitution Act, 1982, s. 35, who attended as a student or for educational purposes at the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school (the “Survivor Class” or “Survivor Class Members”); and
  • any spouse, parent, child, grandchild, or sibling of a Survivor Class Member, or the surviving spouse of a deceased Survivor Class Member (the “Family Class” or “Family Class Members”).

Survivor Class Members include all day students/day schoolers (individuals who attended at the School during the day and slept somewhere else), and all residential/boarding students. Survivor Class Members are also included whether they are Métis or First Nation.

Although the shameful and painful history of Canadian residential schools has now been well-publicized, and there has been legal recognition for some of the damage caused by colonial schooling systems, Métis experiences and survivors have been consistently excluded.

The Île-à-la-Crosse residential school operated in the same fashion as other residential schools. It was run by Roman Catholic religious groups, with government funding and oversight. Like all residential school survivors, the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors were forced or coerced to attend residential school, then forcibly confined and deprived of their heritage, their support networks and their way of life, forced to adopt a foreign language and culture, and punished severely for non-compliance. They were subjected to systematic child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment, and often endured psychological, physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of teachers, administrators and other school employees.

Nevertheless, the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school was excluded from both the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the Day Schools Settlement Agreement. Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors have not received any acknowledgement of, or compensation for the harms they endured as a result of their experiences at this residential school.

The plaintiffs in this action are four Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors, and two children of survivors representing the Family Class. They are calling on Canada and Saskatchewan to acknowledge the injustices that have been done to the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors, and provide compensation for their harms. Legally speaking, the plaintiffs allege that both Canada and Saskatchewan breached fiduciary, statutory and common law duties owed to the Class Members, and claim general, aggravated, and punitive damages.

To learn more, please view the Frequently Asked Questions in the “Documents” Tab.

Merchant Law Group Class Action

This proposed class action lawsuit is not the same lawsuit as the one started by Merchant Law Group in 2005. Over the last 17 years, that lawsuit has been stalled, and nothing has been done to help survivors – many of whom have died during this long and unnecessary delay.

Because the Merchant Law Group lawsuit is going nowhere, and because it is so important to obtain justice for survivors before more are lost, the Île-à-la-Crosse Boarding School Steering Committee (a Survivor-led group which is dedicated to advocating for Survivors of the Île-à-la-Crosse School) and the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan hired our law firm to start this new lawsuit.

Almost all of the surviving plaintiffs from the Merchant Law Group lawsuit have fired Merchant Law Group and hired our firm. They support this new lawsuit and want it to go forward as the only class action for the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors. Merchant Law Group will not be part of this lawsuit, whether it is fought in court or there are settlements with Canada and/or Saskatchewan.

The plaintiffs in this action will be applying to the Court in Saskatoon to stay  the Merchant Law Group lawsuit. A stay means that the Merchant action will be put to a stop, and only this action will proceed on behalf of the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors.


Hope for Wellness Help Line

Emotional and crisis support is available to Survivors and intergenerational Survivors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 & Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or the online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

Counselling is available in English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, on request.

National Indian Residential School Crisis Line

Contact the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

Other resources

You can also access ongoing mental health resources in your region.

Letter from Merchant Law Group

We understand that Merchant Law Group has been sending letters to Survivors who “signed up” with that firm in relation to the proposed class action that that firm started 17 years ago.  You do not need to respond to that letter.

In the letter, Merchant Law Group suggests that the actions that it has taken in other lawsuits “is also a part of fighting on your behalf.” The reality is that Merchant Law Group has not been pushing forward the claim for the Survivors of Ile a la Crosse in the courts, at all. We are moving as quickly as possible to get the Survivors claims heard by a court, and to reach a resolution with the governments. If you have any concerns, we are happy to talk to you. You can call us or used the “Contact Us” button to send a message.


If you are an île-à-la-Crosse School Survivor (or a Survivor’s contact person) who would like to receive email updates from us about this class action, please fill out the form and email it to niharika@waddellphillips.ca, or print it and fax to 416-477-1657. To fill it, click here or go to the “Documents” tab.


The Statement of Claim was filed in Saskatoon on December 27, 2022. To read it, click here or go to the “Documents” tab.


Updates about this proposed class action will be posted as they become available.

Île-à-la-Crosse residential school class action FAQ

How does a class action work?

A class action is a type of lawsuit for a group of people who all have similar legal claims. Instead of each person filing a separate lawsuit, all of the common questions are decided together in one action for the whole group. The group is called a “class,” and each member of the group is called  a “class member”.

For a lawsuit to become a class action, a judge has to decide that the best way to decide all the issues that are the same or similar for the class members is to proceed with one lawsuit for the benefit of all the class members. This is called “certification”. At the certification hearing, the judge will decide whether the class members’ legal claims are similar enough to be decided together, and what issues the trial judge can decide for everyone. The judge does not decide who will win or lose at this hearing – that comes later.

If a lawsuit is certified as a class action, the judge will appoint representative plaintiffs. These are class members who represent the whole group, and are the people whose names appear on the statement of claim. They are actively involved in the class action.  They provide the instructions to the lawyers, and their experiences are used as examples to help the judge understand the case.

Once a lawsuit is certified as a class action, then the opposite parties exchange documents that are relevant to the claim, and they conduct examinations.  Once those examinations are done, the parties will prepare for trial. At any time, the two sides can also agree to settle the lawsuit.

What is this class action lawsuit about?

This is a proposed class action lawsuit about the harms and abuses suffered by students (“Survivors”) at the  Île-à-la-Crosse residential school (the “School”) in Saskatchewan. The School was staffed by the Roman Catholic Mission, so it was sometimes called the “Île-à-la-Crosse Mission school” or the “Île-à-la-Crosse boarding school”. The School closed down in 1972 after it burnt down.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit are suing the Government of Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan for the roles that they played in operating the Île-à-la-Crosse School, and for breaching their legal duties to care for the Survivors.

This lawsuit seeks compensation for the harms endured by the Survivors caused by attending the School. These harms include, but are not limited to: physical and psychological injuries, loss of ability to work, subsequent development of addiction or other mental health issues, and loss of Aboriginal language, culture, spirituality and identity. The lawsuit also seeks compensation for the Survivors’ close family members, who suffered inter-generational harm from the Survivors’ school experiences.

Who is included in this class action lawsuit?

This lawsuit is brought on behalf of all Indigenous persons who attended as students or for educational purposes at the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school at any time (the “Survivor Class Members”).  All Student Survivors are included, whether or not they lived at the School or attended the School during the day, and slept somewhere else.  The class includes all people who are considered “aboriginal people of Canada” (including First Nations, non-status, Métis and Inuit people).

This lawsuit also includes claims on behalf of close family members of Survivor Class Members (any spouse, parent, child, grandchild, or sibling), and surviving spouses of deceased Survivor Class Members (the “Family Class Members”).

Four of the plaintiffs (Louis Gardiner, Margaret Aubichon, Melvina Aubichon and Emile Janvier) are Survivor Class Members. Two of the plaintiffs (Duane Favel and Donna Janvier) are Family Class Members. This lawsuit is called the “Gardiner Action” because Louis Gardiner is the first named plaintiff in the official title of the lawsuit.

Why was this class action lawsuit started? What about the other class action lawsuit (Aubichon v. Canada) previously started by the Merchant Law Group?

Back in 2005, the Merchant Law Group started a proposed class action on behalf of Île-à-la-Crosse School Survivors. Over the last 17 years, the Merchant lawsuit has not moved forward. The lawsuit has not even been certified as a class action. Many Survivors have died since that action was started.

Because of the delay and lack of action from Merchant, and because it is so important to obtain justice for Survivors before more pass away, Waddell Phillips P.C. was hired to start the Gardiner Action.  The Île-à-la-Crosse Boarding School Steering Committee (a Survivor-led group which is dedicated to advocating for Survivors of the Île-à-la-Crosse School) and the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan are working with the named plaintiffs in the Gardiner Action to help with the prosecution of the claim.

Almost all of the surviving plaintiffs from the Merchant lawsuit have fired Merchant Law Group and hired Waddell Phillips. These former Merchant clients all support the new Gardiner Action, and want it to go forward as the only class action for the Île-à-la-Crosse School Survivors. Merchant will not be part of the Gardiner Action.

The Gardiner plaintiffs will request that the Court “stay” the Merchant lawsuit. A stay means that the Merchant action will be put to a stop by the court, so that only the Gardiner Action will proceed.

What about the other residential school class actions? Didn’t they already say that Île-à-la-Crosse wasn’t included?

You may know about other residential or day school class action settlements, like the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (the “IRSSA”), Day Schools (McLean), or Day Scholars (Gottfriedson). The Île-à-la-Crosse School was not included in any of those settlements; but that doesn’t mean that the Survivors’ claims aren’t legally valid. Those settlements have no legal impact on whether this case will succeed or not.

After the IRSSA was signed in 2006, requests could be made to add schools to the school list. The request to add the Île-à-la-Crosse School was denied, because Canada said that the School was run by the Mission, and not by the federal government, and it was not an “Indian” residential school. That decision isn’t legally binding for this case, and it doesn’t have any legal impact on whether this case will succeed or not. The Daniels Supreme Court decision that confirmed that Métis people are aboriginal people to whom the Federal Government owed a fiduciary duty was not decided until a decade after IRSSA was signed, in 2016.

Do I need to do anything to join the class action lawsuit?

No, you do not have to do anything if you are a Survivor Class Member or Family Class Member who wants to be part of the lawsuit. Anyone who meets the class definition will be automatically included in the class action if it is certified.  You do not need to “sign up” for a class action.

However, Waddell Phillips would like to hear from you, so that we can add you to our list of known class members.

In Saskatchewan, once a class action is certified, anyone who fits the class definition is automatically part of the class action lawsuit and they are bound by the outcome, unless they choose to exclude themselves by “opting out” of the class action after certification.

If the lawsuit is certified as a class action, a notice will be published, explaining what happens next, and how to opt out of the lawsuit for anybody who wants to be excluded from the litigation.

If you have any documents that prove that you or a close family member went to the Île-à-la-Crosse School, then please put them in a safe place.  Those documents may be needed to help show that you, or members of your family or community are a class member, because the School’s records are incomplete. The documents might be such things as photographs, letters, school records or other school documents, or anything else that would should that you or other people went to the School.

Do I need to pay money to participate in the class action lawsuit? How are the lawyers being paid?

No class member will ever need to pay any money to be part of the class action lawsuit. The lawyers at Waddell Phillips are being paid by the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan at a reduced hourly rate, and they will be asking the Defendants to pay the rest of their fees if there is a settlement or a trial judgment.  Waddell Phillips will never ask the class members to pay any of the expenses that the firm incurs to run the case, nor will it as the class members to pay its legal fees or court costs.

If there is a settlement in the lawsuit that results in compensation for class members, the lawyers may negotiate an extra amount of money for legal fees (this is called a “contingency fee”), to be paid directly by the governments. This negotiation would happen after the settlement is negotiated, and would not have any impact on how much money class members get.

If the action does not settle, and it is decided after a court trial, and the judgment results in compensation for class members, the lawyers may ask the Court to order that the lawyers’ legal fee be paid by the governments. In that case, there would still be no financial impact on the class members, and the lawyers would be paid by the governments on top of the money they would be ordered to pay to the class members.

What is the current status of the Gardiner class action lawsuit?

The Statement of Claim for the Gardiner Action was issued on December 27, 2022. This document starts the court process. It explains the case against Canada and Saskatchewan.

Now that the Statement of Claim is issued, Waddell Phillips will ask the Court to stay the Merchant Action, so that the Gardiner Action will be the only proposed class action about the Île-à-la-Crosse School.

Waddell Phillips intends to move the Gardiner Action forward quickly. This will include requiring the Defendants to deliver their statements of defence, and asking the Court to certify the Gardiner Action as a class action.  Waddell Phillips and the plaintiffs will also be pursuing settlement negotiations with both Canada and Saskatchewan.

What happened to the Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Canada?

On July 19, 2019, the Île-à-la-Crosse Boarding School Steering Committee, the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Île-à-la-Crosse Exploratory Discussions (the “MOU”).

In the MOU, Canada acknowledged that Île-à-la-Crosse School Survivors were excluded from the IRSSA, and all the groups involved agreed on a framework for “Exploratory Discussions”.  These were preliminary discussions about what might be involved in negotiating a settlement for the Survivors). The Exploratory Discussions never got past the preliminary stages, and no settlement was reached with Canada.

The MOU is still in place. Now that the Gardiner Action is started, the lawyers will continue to work to try to settle with Canada, and will encourage Saskatchewan to join this settlement effort. However, the lawyers will not delay the court proceedings in the Gardiner Action while negotiations are underway, because it is important not to delay resolution of these claims any further.

What kind of compensation can be expected?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict what the outcome of the litigation will be, including what kind of compensation might be received in a settlement or a judgment. Both Canada and Saskatchewan could raise defences that affect the ability of the Class to gain recovery.

That said, you could look at previous residential schools settlements, including the most recent settlements in Day Schools and Boarding Homes, to help get an idea of outcomes that have been achieved before.

Any settlement that is reached will not take effect unless the Court approves the settlement, including any compensation amounts to the Classes, as fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of the Survivors and their family members.  No settlement will be recommended by Waddell Phillips unless we believe that the Court will find that it is fair, reasonable and in the best interests of the Class.


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