VANCOUVER - Two First Nations in British Columbia are looking to take the federal government to court on behalf of all the former day students of the country's notorious residential school system.
The Tk'emlups te Secwepemc and Shishalh bands are asking permission from the Federal Court to launch a class-action suit representing aboriginal children who attended residential schools but returned to their families at night.
"Every single one of them has a story similar to the people who resided in the schools," said former Shishalh chief turned councillor, Garry Feschuk, a plaintiff in the case and whose wife is a former day student.
"I really believe it's time that these people are heard and we start to heal our people."
Three separate class-action suits are being considered by the court: one for former day students, one for descendants of former day students and one for bands impacted by members who attended residential schools as day students.
The certification hearing starts Monday and is scheduled to last all this week, the allegations of which have not been proven in court.
Feschuk said he expects a decision to be reached by September.
In 2008, the Canadian government issued a formal apology for its historic role in the residential school system, but that did not include compensation for the day students who attended the schools alongside live-in students.
The lawsuit alleges day students suffered the same loss of cultural connection and language as their residential counterparts, who did receive compensation.
It argues that the program was an intentional element of Canada's education policy and resulted in serious and life-long harm to survivors.
Feschuk estimated there are more than 300 former day students belonging to the two representative bands, but he was unable to provide an overall number for the entire country.
"It's taken a lot of work to get us to where we are today," said Feschuk, adding that the legal process began more than three years ago.
"I'm just hoping that in the end we can achieve the justice that our people have been waiting for. They've waited long enough."
Justice Sean Harrington will ultimately decide whether the two bands should be allowed to speak for all of Canada's former aboriginal day students.
That decision could then be appealed by either side before going to trial, provided a negotiated, out-of-court settlement isn't reached in the interim.
— Follow @gwomand on Twitter