10/10/2014 06:19 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST

Home for Colored Children apology from Nova Scotia

Former residents of a Halifax orphanage who faced years of abuse received a formal apology today from the province of Nova Scotia.

The former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse by staff at the orphanage over a 50-year period up until the 1980s.

Premier Stephen McNeil issued the apology at the provincial legislature Friday afternoon.

"It is one of the great tragedies in our province’s history that your cries for help were greeted with silence for so long," said McNeil. 

"Some of you faced horrific abuse that no child should ever experience. You deserved a better standard of care. For the trauma and neglect you endured, and their lingering effects on you and your loved ones, we are truly sorry."

McNeil went on to thank former residents for their "courage and perseverance in telling your stories. Your strength, your resilience, and your desire for healing and reconciliation should be an inspiration to all Nova Scotians."

The premier called the abuse at the home "only one chapter in a history of systemic racism and inequality that has scarred our province for generations."

McNeil called on Nova Scotians to "do better."

"An apology is not a closing of the books, but a recognition that we must cast an unflinching eye on the past as we strive toward a better future. We are sorry for your suffering, we are grateful for your courage, and we welcome your help in building a healthier future for all of us."

Payments to come

A $29-million class-action settlement with the Nova Scotia government was finalized in July. 

The judge who approved the settlement is still deciding how much lawyers representing the 300 former residents should receive in legal fees.

Ray Wagner is the lead counsel for the former residents of the Home for Colored Children. He and his team are seeking $6.6 million in legal fees for their work on the file over 16 years.

Mike Dull, speaking for Wagner's team, said a decision from the judge on the legal fees is expected next week. He said there’s no reason that payments to former residents will be held up by the legal fees decision.

Friday marks the first day former residents can start submitting claims to an Ottawa assessment company.  

It's expected that the company will assess claims and start to send out the first payments this year. There are two parts to the payments. The first part are "common experience" payments, based on things like the length of time spent at the home. Those are the payments likely to start this year. 

The second is an "independent assessment process" and that looks at more severe claims of abuse. That  second step is expected to take place through next year.