‘Great harm was done’
Judge sides with survivors in groundbreaking decision
After trying for eight years to have a class-action lawsuit brought by Ontario survivors of the ’60s Scoop thrown out, the federal government was dealt a blow Tuesday in a stinging ruling by a Toronto judge who found in the survivors’ favour.
The government had a “common law duty of care” to take reasonable steps to prevent onreserve children from losing their indigenous identity after they were removed and placed in nonindigenous care between 1965 and 1984, concluded Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba.
“Canada breached this common law duty of care,” the judge said.
It’s believed there are at least 16,000 survivors of the ’60s Scoop in Ontario, who have spoken of psychological harm as a result of the loss of their cultural identity, which has affected them throughout adulthood.
“The Sixties Scoop happened and great harm was done,” Belobaba wrote in his 20-page ruling.
“The uncontroverted evidence of the plaintiff’s experts is that the loss of their aboriginal identity left the children fundamentally disoriented, with a reduced ability to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. The loss of aboriginal identity resulted in psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, unemployment, violence and numerous suicides.”
The victory — the first for a ’60s Scoop lawsuit in Canada — after years of legal wrangling was hailed by the plaintiffs and indigenous rights groups, who acknowledged this is not the end of the case.
The lead plaintiff, 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. “Our pain was acknowledged.”
Beaverhouse First Nation Chief Marcia Brown Martel is the lead plaintiff in an Ontario class-action suit. A judge ruled Tuesday in favour of 16,000 indigenous Ontarians who were removed from their communities in the Sixties Scoop.