Using Class Actions to Redress Historical Wrongs Committed By the Government

AuthorEmily Unrau
usInG Cl ass aCTIons
To redress HIsTorICal
wronGs CoMMITTed
bY THe GoVernMenT
Emily Unrau
Abstract: The author argues that in many circumstances
class actions can be an effective tool to redress historical
wrongs committed by the C anadian government. First, a his-
torical wrong’s suitabil ity to be brought as a class proceeding
must be assessed on the basis of whether the action meets
the stated aims of judicial economy, access to justice, and be-
haviour modif‌ication, as well as through an an alysis of other
pragmatic issues. Like the majority of class actions, those
for historical wrongs generally result in a settlement. Next,
an examination of these settlements reveals that they c an be
understood to offer appropriate redress for historical wrongs
when viewed through a reconciliatory, not a restorative, lens.
Rather than claiming th at monetary compensation restores
the status quo, the reconciliatory perspective of class action
settlements, exemplif‌ied by t he Indian Residential School
Settlement Agreement, views them as a means to establish
trust and respect between perpetrator and victim. Finally,
class actions also play an important role where the govern-
ment is reluctant or unwilling to settle. In this situation, a
class action provides victims with the best hope of redres s.
Essentially, class actions provide marginalized groups that
have suffered histor ical wrongs with an inst rumental and often
necessary tool to seek compensation from the government.
CCAR 8-2.indb 339 4/25/2013 3:10:42 PM
CCAR 8-2.indb 340 4/25/2013 3:10:42 PM

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