APTN National News
The lead plaintiffs in a billion-dollar civil suit against the federal government rejoiced Tuesday after an Ontario judge ruled in their favour.
Justice Edward Belobaba said Canada failed in its fiduciary duty to protect the cultural identity of thousands of Indigenous children who were ripped from their homes during the 60s Scoop.
“This is a new day in Canada … what a great moment it is,” said Chief Marcia Brown Martel at a news conference in Toronto.
Brown Martel has been fighting the case for nearly 11 years.
At issue was the government’s responsibility to protect the children’s cultural identity after they were taken from their communities.
The decision by Belobaba Tuesday said Canada failed to do that.
“When Canada entered into the 1965 Agreement and over the years of the class period, Canada had a common law duty of care to take reasonable steps to prevent on-reserve Indian children in Ontario, who had been placed in the care of non-aboriginal foster or adoptive parents, from losing their aboriginal identity. Canada breached this common law duty of care,” said Belobaba.
“We survived,” said Brown Martel. “Sometimes it was hard.”
Brown Martel said she has several principles for reconciliation for Canada and 60s Scoop survivors and what should happen next.
• Canada needs to be inclusive and negotiate with all survivors and not just those listed in the class action suit.
• Honour the stories of survivors and ensure they become part of Canada’s history to ensure that they are acknowledged and the 60s Scoop no longer is a secret.
• Ensure that survivors have access to supports to deal with the trauma they’ve suffered and well.
• Honour the spirit of survivors, learn the lessons from our experience.
In Ottawa, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett met with reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons.
Canada is fresh off an attempt to derail the civil suit by telling Belobaba that he should throw the case out and let the two sides negotiate a settlement. It was one of eight attempts from two federal governments to try and throw the case out. This latest attempt was unsuccessful.
On Tuesday, Bennett talked of reconciliation and said the government would not appeal the decision.
“Our government is determined to do this job of reconciliation in a good way with recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership,” said Bennett.
That’s good news said Jeffery Wilson, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.
“This is an opportunity for Canada to start a process of healing,” said Wilson. “And the healing is not for First Nations, it really is healing that we privileged males like myself have to begin to really examine what has taken place. The racism that underlies what happened in the 60s scoop in the name of the best interest of the child. It affected a lot of very good people and children who had no voice.”
Wilson is a child protection lawyer by trade. He took the case on because of the legal work that he was doing in northern Ontario. He said this case is precedent setting.
“It is the first case in the western world that discusses the obligation of the state to protect the cultural identity,” said Wilson.
“Today is a new day.”
The two sides have been ordered by Belobaba to sit down and negotiate a settlement – one he will help with if necessary.
The plaintiffs asked for $1.3 billion in damages.
Bennett said she is looking forward to sitting down and working this out. A sentiment echoed by Jeffery Wilson.
For Marcia Brown Martel – it’s a day to celebrate.
“What a day to say our children are so valued in our country,” Brown Martel said.