By Constance Rento
By Constance Rento
Rabat – It was a Valentine’s Day to remember for Canada’s survivors of the notorious Sixties Scoop. Eight years after their battle began, plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit against the government of Canada found their perseverance rewarded with a ruling in their favour, according to the CBC Tuesday.
From 1965 until 1984, a program led by the province of Ontario, oversaw the forced removal of thousands of indigenous people from their families. They were placed into non-indigenous homes and forced to abandon their language and traditions. Some children were exposed to foster home abuse while others were even declared dead and renamedand adopted by all-white families, their families told to stop looking for them.
On Tuesday, Justice Edward Belobaba found the federal government of Canada to be “liable of harm.” In a scathing rebuke Belobaba cited intense psychological harm that dogged survivors for decades, accusing the federal government of breaching its “duty of care” to the children and ignoring the damaging effects that breach in care created.
“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, violence and numerous suicides,”Justice Belobaba’s ruling read.
According to the same source, with the award of damages now the next step in the process, Indigenous Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, announced that the government has no plans to the contest the ruling. “Absolutely not,” she said.
As for the plaintiffs themselves, Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff and a Sixties Scoop survivor herself, was elated. She was one of the First Nations children declared dead and “reborn” via adoption by an all-white family. When she discovered the deception and the scale of the systematic betrayal of so many families, she began the long journey to Tuesday’s decision.
“I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my heart. Our voices were finally heard and listened to,” she said. “Our pain was acknowledged. I hope no one sees this as a loss for our government. It is a gain for all of us-a step forward and a step closer to reconciliation.”
The class action suit sought compensation amounting to 1.3 billion dollars, on behalf of 16,000 survivors. The final settlement amount is yet to be determined. There is talk that the federal government attempted to keep the ruling from being published so that a settlement could be achieved out of court, but they backed down amid a strenuous outcry.
In his ruling, Justice Belobaba leveled a withering indictment of the government’s case. Counsel for the Government of Canada argued that consulting the First Nations families involved in the scoop under the child welfare program would have made little if any difference in the outcome.
“This is an odd and, frankly, insulting submission. 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 said, continuing to explain that the government’s case entirely missed the point. “The issue is not what was known in the 1960’s about the harm of trans-racial adoption or the risk of abuse in the foster home,” acknowledging that even then the importance of preserving their First Nations culture was well known, if ignored by the government of Canada.