’60s Scoop Survivors win in Ontario court should be applied nation-wide

by John Copley

(ANNews) – It took eight long years, but on February 14, 2017, Ontario Superior Court Judge Edward Belobaba ruled in favour of the plaintiffs in a class action law suit that proved that government was negligent and “breached the common law duty of care” that was its responsibility when it ordered the removal of Indigenous children from their homes and communities and handed them over to complete strangers.

Judge Belobaba’s decision brought the hammer down on a government that in the 1960s failed in its responsibility to provide proper care when it initiated a program that “scooped” Indigenous children from their homes and communities and in due process handed them over to non-Indigenous parents. These youth, some children as young as four, were stripped of their identities, torn from their families and communities and raised with no knowledge of their heritage, religion or culture. Some were placed in loving homes, others were bounced from home to home but they all suffered from the loss of Aboriginal identity. 

In an interview, Bernadette Iahtail, Executive Director of the Creating Hope Society, a non-profit organization whose motto reads: An Aboriginal Home for Every Child in Care by 2025, said she was “very pleased with the Supreme Court Decision,” and said she expected some positive change, “but to ensure that change actually happens, we need government to put an immediate emphasis on healing by committing more dollars for prevention and preservation programs for Indigenous organizations. We are the people who can work most effectively, an Indigenous organization helping Indigenous people. We need to engage families and communities in dialogue and work with them to ensure that healing comes full circle.”

The Sixties Scoop is a term that refers to a federal government-introduced program that began in the mid-1960s and ended in the mid-1980s. Its mission was to remove Aboriginal children from their homes and communities and foster them out to non-Indigenous caregivers. Over the past decade these children, now grown, have spoken out about the trauma they suffered, the identities they lost and the families they left behind.

Ottawa said it has no plans to appeal the decision. Iahtail said she hopes the federal government will go one step further.

“What we hope for is formal recognition of the (cultural) genocide that took place,” she said, adding “that what needs to follow is an apology from the Prime Minister. Canada needs to recognize the impact that caused so much devastation to people who grew up in the child welfare system.

“Yes, I am pleased with the decision but we must keep in mind that there is no amount of money that can replace the loss of family, the loss of community connection and belonging, and, speaking for myself, the loss of language, culture and tradition that continues to separate us from our own Indigenous people because of assimilation. Money cannot replace the loss of a healthy childhood, nor can it fully embrace the ramifications of trauma, mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse and the aftermath of the child welfare syndrome.

“The government wanted to take the Indian out of a child beginning with the residential schools and continuing from the 1960s until today. The child welfare system is still broken; there is much more that can be done to ensure that Aboriginal children are cared for by Aboriginal families and communities.”

From 1965 through 1984 thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their families; Judge Belobaba came down hard on a government he said breached its trust and then tried to contend that consulting with First Nation communities would be a waste of time because consultation wouldn’t have made any difference to the children.

In his submission, Judge Belobaba wrote: “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.”

Canada’s Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde, head of the Assembly of First Nations, said he was pleased with the court’s decision, noting that “children of the Sixties Scoop deserve justice, healing and reconciliation.

“The Sixties Scoop was part of an ongoing attempt by Canada to rob First Nations children of their language, their rights and their identity. Today’s decision is a step towards reconciliation.”

Just one week before Judge Belobaba gave his ruling the Liberal government said it would block the judge from delivering his ruling because Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett announced plans to negotiate with Sixties Scoop survivors across Canada. But the loud cry from plaintiffs, opposition critics and citizens across the country forced Ottawa to back down and allow the Sixties Scoop survivors from Ontario to have their court ruling. The Liberal government is already under fire for failing to set in place initiatives and programs it promised during the last election campaign. However, Minister Bennett has reiterated that her government is ready and willing to move forward with a reconciliation settlement – further distancing itself from the anti-Aboriginal, stall tactics employed by the Stephen Harper-led Conservatives.

 Judge Belobaba noted,

“The uncontroverted evidence of the plaintiff’s experts is that the 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.”

Following the decision Minister Bennett said the government would not appeal the ruling, but would push to settle on monetary compensation and reconciliation out of court. This case, however, applies only to children apprehended in Ontario during the Sixties Scoop era. The $1.3 billion lawsuit was brought together for the benefit of about 16,000 Indigenous children in Ontario who were traumatized and otherwise affected when they were pulled from their homes and placed with strangers from different backgrounds and cultures.

Now it will be up to the survivor groups throughout the rest of Canada to come together and demand the same justice given those in Ontario.

Following a February 14 cabinet meeting Minister Bennett told media that “it’s really important that we get to the table as soon as possible, we hope they’ll come. What we hear from a lot of the claimants is that it’s not just about money. Money is important but getting their language and culture back, making sure their children will be able to speak the language, and getting their culture back, is so important.”

And just as important is the speedy acknowledgement of the Superior Court Decision and an equally speedy plan to set things right. The judge has not yet released his decision on the amount to be paid in damages. What Sixties Scoop survivors outside of Ontario do not need is another Minister of Indigenous Affairs. i.e. Carolyn Bennett, to begin the long, tedious and expensive process of negotiating one-on-one with the Sixties Scoop survivors in other provinces. 

Seal the deal Ms. Bennett and for once operate on the motto that ‘what is good for one, is good for all.’ In this case the decision was rendered by the Superior Court of Ontario; what survivors in Ontario receive, others should also receive.

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