Judge sides with ’60s Scoop sur­vivors

Six Na­tions Polytech­nic pres­i­dent wel­comes rul­ing; Jus­tice blasts Ot­tawa; dam­ages to be de­cided

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN PERKEL

TORONTO — 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 long-run­ning 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 abo­rig­i­nal bands about the child-wel­fare 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.”

The de­ci­sion has a big im­pact in the Hamil­ton area, home to a large ur­ban in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion and on the boarder of Canada’s largest re­serve, Six Na­tions.

“The rul­ing in this case re-af­firms what in­dige­nous peo­ple in Canada have known and felt all along,” said Re­becca Jamieson, pres­i­dent of Six Na­tions Polytech­nic. “Rec­og­niz­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing the truth is an im­por­tant step for­ward in Canada’s rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.”

“Our thoughts are with the ‘60s Scoop sur­vivors to­day and we hope this rul­ing has pro­vided them with some relief,” Jamieson added.

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 tran­sra­cial 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, 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.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in­di­cated last week it was go­ing to try to block Belob­aba from re­leas­ing his rul­ing af­ter Ben­nett an­nounced an in­ten­tion to ne­go­ti­ate with ‘60s Scoop sur­vivors across the coun­try.

’60s Scoop sur­vivors at a Toronto court­house in Au­gust 2016.

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