Judge sides with ’60s Scoop survivors
Damages now to be decided
Canada failed to take reasonable steps to prevent thousands of on-reserve children who were placed with non-native families from losing their indigenous heritage during the ‘60s Scoop, an Ontario judge ruled in a landmark case Tuesday.
The decision in the longrunning and bitterly fought class action paves the way for an assessment of damages the government will now have to pay and was hailed as a major step toward reconciliation and healing.
The lawsuit launched eight years ago sought $1.3 billion on behalf of about 16,000 indigenous children in Ontario who claimed they were harmed by being placed in non-aboriginal homes from 1965 to 1984 under terms of a federal-provincial agreement.
In siding with the plaintiffs, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba found Canada had breached its “duty of care’’ to the children. The judge also found that Ottawa breached part of the agreement that required consultation with Indian bands about the childwelfare program.
Belobaba was scathing about the government’s contention that consultation with the bands would have made little difference to the children.
“This is an odd and, frankly, insulting submission,’’ Belobaba wrote. “Canada appears to be saying that even if the extension of child welfare services to their reserves had been fully explained to the Indian bands and, if each band had been genuinely consulted about their concerns in this regard, that no meaningful advice or ideas would have been forthcoming.’’
Belobaba rejected the government’s arguments that the 1960s were different times, and that it acted with good intentions in line with prevailing standards. As a result, the government insisted, it could not have known the harm that might have been done to the children.
“Canada’s submission misses the point,’’ Belobaba said. “The issue is not what was known in the 1960s about the harm of trans-racial adoption or the risk of abuse in the foster home.’’
Instead, the justice said, there could be “no doubt’’ that what was well known even then was the importance to First Nations peoples of protecting and preserving their distinctive cultures and traditions, including their concept of extended family.
The lead plaintiff in the Ontario action, Marcia Brown Martel, 53, a member of the Temagami First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ont., was adopted by a non-aboriginal couple in 1972 at age nine. She later discovered the Canadian government had declared her original identity dead.
“I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my heart,’’ Brown Martel said in a statement. “Our voices were finally heard and listened to. Our pain was acknowledged.’’
In Ottawa, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government would “absolutely not’’ appeal the ruling, but she also suggested more than money was at stake.
“It is really important that, as we begin these conversations about what is the best way forward for these survivors, we understand that what they are talking about are language and culture and the kinds of things that were taken from them, and they’re things that a court can’t really award,’’ Bennett said.
Beaverhouse First Nation Chief Marcia Brown Martel (left) hugs the plaintiffs co-lawyer Jeffrey Wilson during a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday.