Indigenous leaders want action on ’60s Scoop lawsuit

Letter to PM urges government to apologize, settle lawsuits over program that took aboriginal children from their parents

WINNIPEG — The federal government wants to sit down and find a settlement to lawsuits over the ’60s Scoop, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Wednesday.

Bennett said she is open to finding a solution to legal cases over the scoop, which saw thousands of aboriginal children taken from their homes by child-welfare services and placed with non-aboriginal families between the 1960s and 1980s.

“We, as you know—as a government—would like to get things out of court and to a table where we can make those kinds of agreements together, as a way forward,” Bennett told reporters in Winnipeg.

“We want to work together with all of the litigants that are presently in court and try and get to the table.”

Bennett made the comments one day after issuing a formal apology and $33.6 million in compensation to the Sayisi Dene of northern Manitoba for a forced relocation in 1956 that led to poverty and despair.

There are a handful of lawsuits across the country over the ’60s Scoop, including a class-action lawsuit in Saskatchewan that seeks unspecified damages for everything from loss of cultural identity to sexual and physical abuse.

Another lawsuit in Ontario has been before the courts since 2009 and seeks $85,000 for each affected person.

Five indigenous leaders wrote an open letter Tuesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging him to apologize for the ’60s Scoop and settle the Ontario lawsuit, which they said has been repeatedly delayed by the federal government.

The former Conservative government tried to overturn the decision to certify the class-action suit, but lost its appeal in 2014.

“We are writing to you because you have publicly stated that Canada has a sacred and legal obligation to First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples,” reads the letter signed by leaders including former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine.

Lawyer Tony Merchant, who is behind the class-action lawsuit in Saskatchewan, said he welcomes Bennett’s offer to discuss the issue outside of court. But he said the court action has been necessary.

“Government is always saying ‘take it out of the court’, but they are only coming forward and even talking about settling as a result of the work that … lawyers have been doing.”

The Liberal government has made for a  “better political climate” for indigenous people since being elected last year, Merchant said.

“But governments still go very slowly and the people handling things are still lawyers in the department of justice and they don’t change particularly simply because there are different people politically in charge.”


Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.