Judge sides with ’60s Scoop sur­vivors

Dam­ages now to be de­cided

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

CP PHOTO

Beaver­house First Nation Chief Mar­cia Brown Mar­tel (left) hugs the plain­tiffs co-lawyer Jef­frey Wil­son dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Toronto on Tues­day.

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