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Premier 'dropped the ball' on residential school apology: lawyer

Toby Obed (right) was overcome with emotion at the federal government apology in 2017. He's angry Premier Dwight Ball won't be delivering the provincial apology he promised. - FILE PHOTO
Toby Obed (right) was overcome with emotion at the federal government apology in 2017. He's angry Premier Dwight Ball won't be delivering the provincial apology he promised. - FILE PHOTO

Evan Careen

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Toby Obed is not impressed that Premier Dwight Ball is using COVID-19 as a reason why the province has delayed apologizing to residential school survivors in this province.

“COVID only came about in 2020. How ignorant and how rude to use that as an excuse. He had two years to do this,” Obed said.

He said he won’t stop pushing until the apology is delivered and he is concerned it’s now on the back burner.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced late Thursday that they would be postponing plans for an apology to residential school survivors.

Obed, who accepted the apology for survivors from the federal government in 2017 and was the lead plaintiff in the residential schools’ class-action lawsuit, said he was really upset when he heard Ball would not be delivering the apology he had promised.

Ball announced that the province would apologize in late November 2017, one day before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to offer Canada's apology to residential school survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ball will no longer be premier after the Liberal Party choses a new leader on Aug. 3.

“I am so pissed, I am so angry,” Obed said. “Ball said he was going to do this, he had two years to do it. It was supposed to come directly from him to the survivors and why he took his time I don’t know.”

Ball addressed the issue in June, saying they were working on finalizing details with the three Indigenous governments. According to the government's news release, Ball was scheduled to travel to Nunatsiavut in March, but plans were put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic and the imposition of travel restrictions by public health officials.

Then there were plans to deliver the apology this month, government said, but it wasn’t possible under current public health measures.

Obed said he doesn’t accept that logic, since it’s been two years since the commitment was made and the COVID-19 measures are much more recent.

Stephen Cooper, one of the main lawyers in the $50-million class action residential school lawsuit in Newfoundland and Labrador, said blaming the delays on COVID-19 is "spewing nonsense."

“He dropped the ball on this one,” he said of the premier. “He dropped a lot of balls on this particular promise and the man should feel some shame. I doubt he will, but he should.”

Cooper said Ball could have arranged the apology before now, and many of the survivors are speculating he never really intended to do it.

“The bottom line is that he seemed to want to bask in the light of the resolution and apology from the prime minister by issuing a surprising intention to render an apology. And then he thought better of it. Why? I don’t know. I don’t think the man is sincere about this. I don’t think he understands the issue, I don’t think he understands the province’s role in the residential school system in N.L. and, frankly, I don’t think he cares.”

Cooper said whenever the apology is finally delivered, he does think it will still have a significant impact on survivors, but until that happens, he’s not sure if anyone will believe it’s going to. If and when it happens, he said, it will help bring this chapter of Newfoundland and Labrador history to an end.

He said Ball should never have brought it up the apology if it wasn’t was going to happen.

“He should have just kept his… mouth shut and not revictimized the residential school survivors.”

Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for the SaltWire NetWork

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