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This article was published 10/9/2016 (2075 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Thousands of indigenous Manitobans who were taken from their families at birth or as small children and adopted out to non-indigenous families will get their day in court, a judge has ruled.
Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice James Edmond gave a green light late last month to a class-action lawsuit for ’60s Scoop survivors from the 1960s through the 1990s. It is not the first suit to be made against the federal government — Ontario launched a similar suit in 2009.
Manitoba was the first province to apologize for the practice in 2015 when then-premier Greg Selinger issued a formal apology and described the ’60s Scoop as a historic injustice that left intergenerational scars and trauma.
Indigenous leaders have compared the damage caused by the ’60s Scoop to residential schools.
The practice saw more than 20,000 indigenous children swept from their communities in Canada and adopted in homes as far away as Europe and the southern United States. Accounts vary, but many suggest Manitoba played a leading role in the practice, removing anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 children.
The Manitoba ruling wasn’t only about the legitimacy of launching a suit or the merits of righting a historical wrong. It was also about which one of two competing sets of lawyers would get to go ahead and argue the case in this province.
The Merchant Law Group filed the first case in 2009, and it named Canada and Manitoba, citing not just fiduciary negligence but also violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the United Nations convention against genocide and the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court’s on crimes against humanity. It represented three clients — Lynn Thompson, David Chartrand and Laurie-Anne O’Cheek.
On April 20, a Toronto-Winnipeg legal consortium filed the second motion in the Court of Queen’s Bench. It sought $250 million in damages, including $200 million in damages for breach of fiduciary duty and negligence and $50 million in punitive damages. The plaintiffs, Priscilla Meeches and Stewart Garnett, both of Long Plain First Nation, accuse the Canadian government of forced cultural assimilation.
In a 28-page ruling issued Aug. 24, Edmond chose the consortium of Toronto firm Koskie Minsky and Winnipeg firm Troniak Law. Koskie Minsky lawyer Kirk Baert has earned considerable stature in class-action cases and indigenous law. He argued and won the case on the Mohawk Indian Residential School class action, which played a key role in spurring the billion-dollar residential school settlement of the 1990s.
The case is likely to be a lengthy process that will take years to work its way through the courts. The Ontario case, in comparison, was filed seven years ago and got its first hearing before a judge this summer. Edmond chose Baert and his consortium because the Manitoba case is consistent with the Ontario one, meaning the proceedings there could guide the case here.
Edmond also took the unusual step of delivering a stern scolding to lawyers on both sides. A flurry of court motions before the hearing clearly taxed the judge’s patience.
Edmond wrote the Merchant Group named so many causes of action that were "novel and potentially problematic... (and could) undoubtedly result in additional cost and further delay. I’m concerned the action may be, as pointed out by the consortium, ‘frivolous or doomed to failure,’" Edmond wrote.
The judge ordered the Merchant clients be rolled into the Toronto-Winnipeg case and told lawyers to start adding in other Scoop survivors.
That’s fine with the clients of the losing side. Chartrand, a Métis Scoop survivor who now lives in the Interlake community of Camperville, said he also found fault with the seven-year wait in court so far.
"It went good even though my lawyer lost. The key here is that we’re moving forward," Chartrand said.
The case is expected to focus on the practices of provincial Child and Family Services workers who seized indigenous children on behalf of the federal government.
They arranged for adoption to non-indigenous parents, in some cases to for-profit adoption agencies in the United States where fees of hundreds or thousands of dollars are reported to have been exchanged.
The ruling comes in advance of a rally that’s expected to see dozens of Scoop survivors walk from Thunderbird House on Main Street to the legislature Sept. 30.
"It’s to bring awareness to everyone about the ’60s Scoop survivors who are all over Canada and the United States," said Debbie Deveau-Lapka.
Deveau-Lapka said she was taken from her mother, a woman from a Saskatchewan First Nation living in Rossburn, at birth. She was sent to two foster homes and at age four was adopted. She said spent the next decade in abusive conditions with a Winnipeg couple before child-welfare workers moved her out and placed her in a group home.
Mother and daughter eventually met but never formed a close bond. Her mother died about 20 years ago.