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Prime Minister Stephen Harper presents Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine with a statement of apology for the abuses in Canada’s residential schools on June 11, 2008. The apology and related compensation package excluded students from five schools in Labrador that opened before the province joined Confederation in 1949.PATRICK DOYLE/Reuters

Former students of residential schools in Labrador will be in court in St. John's today to fight for an apology and compensation from Ottawa.

Just over 1,000 plaintiffs in five certified class-action lawsuits were excluded from the Prime Minister's apology in 2008 and a related compensation package.

Lawyers for the federal government deny it was responsible for five schools that opened before the province joined Confederation in 1949.

The International Grenfell Association ran three of them, while the German-based Moravian Missionaries ran the other two.

Lawyer Steven Cooper says Ottawa after 1949 had the same legal duty to aboriginal students in the Labrador schools as elsewhere in Canada.

He says federal lawyers are drawing an "artificial distinction" that will force aging former students to testify about horrific abuse.

Cooper says many parents were pressured to enrol their kids under threat of arrest as part of Ottawa's efforts to assimilate native children.