Canada offers compensation to ‘Sixties Scoop’ survivors

Chief Marcia Brown Martel, pictured here at the Toronto launch of the lawsuit, was the lead plaintiff of the Sixties Scoop class action lawsuit.

OTTAWA—Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced Friday morning that an “agreement in principle” has been reached with the legal team representing survivors of the Sixties Scoop, Indigenous children who had been wrested from their families, communities and culture across Canada by child services agencies, and placed in non-Indigenous homes, largely during the 1960s.

“They have lived their lives not being able to be proud Indigenous people,” Minister Bennett said of the survivors in making the announcement. “They have lived their lives not having secure personal cultural identity. That was robbed away. Someone thought that a non-Indigenous family somewhere else in the world was going to do a better job.”

The children involved in the Sixties Scoop were placed with homes across Canada, and sometimes even overseas and a number of survivors who now live in communities spread across the world were in attendance for the announcement.

As part of the settlement, the government has set aside $750 million for individual compensation and another $50 million for the establishment of a foundation dedicated to reconciliation initiatives.

Lead plaintiff in the class-action suit is 53-year-old Marcia Brown Martel, chief of the Beaver House First Nation in Temagami, north of North Bay. She was taken from her home in 1967 at the age of four and spent years in foster care where she lost contact with her language and cultural identity.

“Today is one of those days that will be marked in history,” said Chief Martel in a video statement following the announcement. “It will be marked down for our children and grandchildren that today, Canada has recognized the culture of peoples.”

Chief Martel noted that this recognition “is huge,” setting in place the fundamental principle that “people’s cultural identities matter.”

Chief Martel said that she sees the establishment of the foundation as the most important portion of the settlement, as it is “the surety to our future generations” that this kind of thing will “never, ever allow this to happen in Canada again.”

Chief Martel noted that the process of reconciliation is far from over, but that the settlement agreement is another step in the right direction.

“Canada is a new place, a new place today,” said Chief Martel. “What a great country this is we live in!”

But amidst the accolades, not all were quite as ebullient.

“On behalf of the Chiefs of Ontario, I congratulate Chief Marcia Brown Martel, who was the lead plaintiff in this long and painful journey towards justice on behalf of the estimated 20,000 Sixties Scoop survivors,” said Chiefs of Ontario Grand Chief Isadore Day in an announcement. “While today is a major victory, no amount of money can truly compensate for being taken away from your family as a child.”

Wiikwemkoong band member and Sixties Scoop survivor Gloria Eshkibok woke up to the news on Friday and her initial response to the news was “grateful, happy Thanksgiving,” but she noted she was “still taking it all in, I am listening to the CBC news on the radio about it. I am seeing on the Sixties Scoop page comments that some people are not satisfied. I’m still taking it in.”

She said that she understands the frustration being expressed by those who feel shortchanged in the settlement, pointing to the way the legal system in Canada is one “where we are set up to lose” and that the bitterness caused by the government’s tactics in court and the process of a cultural genocide still reverberates in Canadian society. “We cannot be sureties for each other, and a lot of us have had criminal charges,” she said. “We are not criminals.” Healing historic wrongs will not happen overnight or be completely wiped by any sum of money, Ms. Eshkibok observed.

“After having to take the fight to the Supreme Court, what does $50,000 do to repair the impact,” agreed Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee, himself a Sixties Scoop survivor. “No family has not been impacted, directly or indirectly. Action is more important than words.”

Grand Council Chief Madahbee said that, although there has been an apology by the Children’s Aid Society, “going forward there are still a number of issues.”

Grand Council Chief Madahbee said it was incumbent upon the federal and provincial governments to provide more than words. “I think they still have to prove themselves,” he said.

When it comes to individual impacts, the settlement details indicate that if there are more than 20,000 claimants, each will receive a payout of $25,000 but if there are fewer than 20,000 each claimant will receive up to a maximum of $50,000. In the earlier residential school settlement, the number of applicants far outstripped the government’s initial estimates.

The government is putting aside an additional $75 million for legal fees and Minister Bennett said the government has secured a commitment from lawyers that they wouldn’t go back to survivors demanding more money, thus avoiding what happened in the Indian residential school settlement where many students faced huge legal bills from their lawyers after receiving compensation.

This settlement follows on a decision in February by an Ontario Superior Court judge who found that the federal government failed to prevent on-reserve children from losing their Indigenous identity after they were forcibly taken from their homes in the Sixties Scoop. That decision was the culmination of an eight-year court battle.

This settlement is expected to end 18 related active lawsuits across Canada. The class-action suit had originally sought $1.3 billion on behalf of 16,000 Indigenous survivors in Ontario alone.

Chief Martel said this is not the end of the process but rather a “plateau,” noting that “there is still much more healing to do.”