The plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit concerning alleged abuse at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador have won an appeal that may prevent further delays in getting to trial later this year.
At issue was a request made by lawyers for the federal government that a question concerning the limitation period be dealt with prior to trial. That question concerns whether a 30-year limitation period applies to allegations of non-sexual misconduct. The lawsuit covers a 30-year period from 1949-1979.
A case-management judge ruled in favour of the federal government on that matter and said a hearing would suffice given there would not be a need for further evidence to be entered on the matter.
However, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal disagreed with that assessment, with the three justices giving a unanimous decision.
“It may be that at the end of the day the trial judge will decide that the evidence presented by the plaintiffs is for naught and that a literal reading of Section 22 (of the Limitations Act) is all that is required,” wrote Justice Malcolm Rowe in the decision rendered Tuesday. “But that can be determined only after argument of the issue, not before.”
The plaintiffs have argued the lawsuit is not subject to the Limitations Act in light of certain aboriginal and constitutional matters. Under the Appeal Court’s ruling, this issue will instead be dealt with as part of the trial.
Rowe noted that hearings on the issue would be extensive and that the losing party would most likely appeal the decision. He said this would delay the start of the trial, which is scheduled for November 2014.
“There is a virtue in simplicity. In this case, that means getting to trial where all issues will be dealt with.”
Rowe ruled the hearings would unduly delay the trial and amount to “seriously prejudicing the plaintiffs, many of whom are elderly.”
The lawsuit involves Labrador Metis, Innu and Inuit students who attended five schools — Yale, Lockwood, Makkovik, Nain and St. Anthony. A statement of claim for the case was initially filed in November 2007, with an amended one filed in April 2012.