Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a three-part series on 60s Scoop survivors and lawyers.
Advocates who work with ‘60s Scoop survivors on the streets of Edmonton are worried homeless clients may be fooled into signing up with lawyers they don’t need.
With word the federal government is willing to pay financial compensation, there are millions of dollars on the line.
Adam North Peigan is looking forward to compensation and an apology he says is coming from the Alberta government.
But he’s also worried about more vulnerable survivors being taken advantage of.
“We’re already hearing stories that have come to us that there are lawyers kind of lurking around in our communities – in Edmonton, First Nation, Metis communities – looking to sign up our survivors.
“If our survivors aren’t already aware of their rights they could unknowingly sign a document that could affect them for the rest of their lives.”
The deal for ‘60s Scoop survivors is one many thought would never happen.
“We need to acknowledge the atrocities, the trauma,” said North Peigan, president of the ’60s Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta.
“The loss of language, everything that went with it.”
North Peigan was taken – or ‘scooped’ – as an infant from his home on the Piikani First Nation in southern Alberta.
He says he grew up in dozens of foster homes before living on the street, including Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside.
“As we become adults – if we haven’t dealt with that trauma – it can leave us having a very destructive life,” North Peigan said in an interview in Edmonton.
“For myself, before I was able to come to terms with what happened to me as a ‘60s Scoop survivor in Alberta, I led a very destructive life… I was very vulnerable.”
Lew Jobs, another survivor and member of the ’60s Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, is also concerned.
He showed APTN News a business card from a law office in Thunder Bay, Ontario he says was given to someone at an inner-city drop-in centre in Edmonton.
“I want to shame these law firms publicly for going after people on the street,” Jobs said in an interview. “It takes a lot of balls to do that.”
The Thunder Bay firm is not one of four official firms negotiating the compensation agreement with the federal government.
APTN asked a lawyer at the Thunder Bay firm about why the firm was handing out business cards three provinces away.
He sent an email response instead.
It said, in part: “We hope that the Sixties Scoop class actions are resolved favourably for all survivors, and any assistance we ultimately provide to individual claimants will be done within the parameters of any potential Settlement Agreement.”
The president of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada said it’s not illegal for law firms to drum up business.
But Scott Robertson agreed it could look bad.
“It sounds like ambulance-chasing to me, rounding up homeless people,” he said in a telephone interview.
North Peigan said he’s suspicious of any lawyers until the compensation agreement is finalized.
“We know when the residential school (compensation) was going on there were lawyers taking advantage of our survivors.”
There are still lawsuits outstanding in different provinces as the federal ‘60s Scoop compensation agreement is being negotiated. There are about 18 pending across Canada.
It is understandable North Peigan and Jobs want to protect less fortunate survivors.
They were both in those shoes once, and Jobs says drop-in centres were his lifeline.
“It took me a while to get off alcohol,” he said.
That’s why they met recently with survivors at one of those drop-in centres and urged them not to sign anything.
“All 20 people there said they’d been approached by these lawyers,” Jobs said.
Jobs said he was scooped as an infant in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT., and raised by a non-Indigenous family in southern Canada.
“My mom was told I’d be better off with a white family,” he said, noting it took decades to reunite with his birth mother.
But that was only after he wound up on the street because of addiction.
APTN spent two days visiting Edmonton drop-in centres, speaking to people waiting for meals, clothing and job training. They were in various states of intoxication that led to some of them being barred from entry.
Some said they grew up in foster care, where they were abused. A couple said they were at the ‘60s Scoop meeting held by North Peigan and Jobs.
North Peigan showed APTN a six-page legal fee agreement for 33.3 per cent he said was faxed to the Edmonton Aboriginal Seniors Centre from another Ontario law firm.
Click here to see the Contingency Agreement being handed to homeless survivors.
“That’s outrageous,” said North Peigan. “Someone would lose a third or more of their compensation.”
A lawyer with the Markham, Ont. firm said he was hoping to reach parents whose children were scooped for a separate class-action lawsuit he is organizing nationally.
“This is another class we are working on,” he explained in a telephone interview, noting 33.3 per cent is a standard fee.
Colleen Cardinal, coordinator and co-founder of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network (NISCW) in Ottawa, said, “this legal stuff is pretty confusing.”
NISCW is run by survivors like her who are volunteers, she said, who aren’t motivated by fees like lawyers and offer support and information through a website and toll-free line.
“People are feeling pretty raw,” she said in a telephone interview. “They shouldn’t sign anything yet.”
Cardinal said she sent a letter to the Canadian Bar Association asking what it would do to protect ‘60s Scoop survivors but she had not yet received a reply.
Robertson said he’s heard enough to send a notice to the country’s law societies, which regulate lawyers, to make them aware of potential abuse.
In the meantime, North Peigan said his group is helping the province of Alberta craft an apology to the estimated 20,000 ‘60s Scoop survivors there.
Only the province of Manitoba, through former NDP premier Greg Selinger, has apologized to families and adoptees caught up in the scoop.
Saskatchewan has also said it will issue an apology.
While nothing has been proven against any individual lawyer at this time, the public should make reasonable inquiries before engaging lawyers regarding these types of claims.