Photo by Cody Coyote
With the Covid-19 pandemic slowing administration of Canada’s $875 million class-action settlement agreement with Sixties Scoop survivors, a federal judge has approved interim payments of $21,000 to the 12,500 people already deemed eligible, as well as to those approved in the months ahead as the review process continues.
According to the agreement signed in November 2017, First Nations and Inuit children who were systematically removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents between 1951 and 1991 are to receive their share of $750 million, depending on the number of eligible claimants.
Reviewing the 34,767 claims submitted by last year’s deadline took longer than anticipated, leading the Federal Court March 27 to order the distribution of final payments to those accepted once 4,767 applications had been rejected. However, with the provincial archives needed to assess applications closed during the pandemic, the number of rejections remained stuck at 1,400.
“We recognize the huge emotional toll this process and delay has had on applicants,” said Doug Lennox, a lawyer with one of the four law firms that helped negotiate the settlement. “The interim payment is about keeping that process of justice moving. It’s the right thing to do.”
During this period of uncertainty, no claims will be denied, and deadlines have been suspended. This means those who received rejection or “intent to reject” letters have more time to support their claims. They are encouraged to seek guidance that may demonstrate their eligibility from one of the firms at no additional cost. This new arrangement came after pressure from advocacy groups, which emphasized financial worries during the pandemic.
“There’s a huge sense of relief that the court heard us, heard the class and the need for getting this settlement moving,” said Katherine Legrange, director of the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada, a support and advocacy organization based in Manitoba. “We advocated hard for a resolution to the stalemate that happened in March. We’re really glad that payments are moving forward.”
Now that interim payments have been approved by the Federal Court and Ontario Superior Court, where the original lawsuit was filed, compensation should begin arriving from claims administrator Collectiva in the coming weeks. The lengthy delays have caused immense frustration among survivors, many of whom are in financial distress.
“A lot of retraumatization has happened through this process,” Legrange told the Nation. “There were no healing or cultural supports in place so folks who were sent rejection notices are quite distraught. One gentleman threatened to commit suicide on our Facebook page, which I also said to the court.”
While survivors have worked together to overcome their forced removal from their birth families, there is also much division and “lateral violence”. Legrange reminds herself that “hurt people hurt people.” Métis and non-status survivors, such as Legrange, have been excluded from this settlement and have their own unresolved legal battles.
“Yes, I have nightmares of the monster that Canada has been, but now I have nightmares about the lateral violence that happens within our organizations trying to regain that which was lost,” said Nadine Delorme, who hopes to launch a 60s Scoop Legacy affiliate in the Northwest Territories. “But, as I’ve discovered from other survivors across Canada, the resiliency and tenacity are so profound.”
Like many survivors, Delorme struggled with depression and identity issues as she worked to unravel the mystery of what happened to her. She eventually began healing after reconnecting with her Indigenous roots as an adult. While the settlement compensation is welcome, it’s less than it cost her to return to her traditional territory in 2014.
“It couldn’t come soon enough for this survivor of the North,” Delorme said. “Will it get me running water and [home] insulation? No, but it will help pay off some of my debts so I can at least move forward on my plans. It doesn’t give back that which was taken.”
The government’s settlement offer was initially dismissed as insufficient by the Sixties Scoop Network, formerly the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network. However, as it became apparent that this was probably the best deal they would get, co-founder Colleen Hele-Cardinal came to realize that it might bring relief to many.
“I think a lot of people are disappointed, but we have no choice but to accept it,” acknowledged Hele-Cardinal. “I don’t really feel like it’s a victory. It’s taken so long to get to this point and it’s not even a full payment.”
Hele-Cardinal lamented the lack of transparency throughout the settlement process. She also says many survivors will be forced to use the money for living expenses rather than something special to enhance their lives. She has recently stepped back from her organization, feeling burnt out from dealing with so many angry people, and looks forward to moving on to other projects (read about her group’s GIS mapping project in this issue).
With $50 million from the settlement allocated to a healing foundation dedicated to reconciliation initiatives, there is hope that new resources will become available for helping survivors connect with adoption records and family members. Legrange learned she had five siblings, four of whom she’s never met, through a genealogy study using DNA.
While Legrange sees last year’s Bill C-92, which recognizes Indigenous jurisdiction over their child and family services, as a step in the right direction, she still feels there are many unresolved issues regarding Sixties Scoop survivors. Although there has been growing awareness about Canada’s residential school system, for example, far fewer people know about the tremendous harm done by the Sixties Scoop.
“We never learned our languages, didn’t have our siblings,” said Legrange. “Lots of us are still looking for family members or may not even know we were part of the Sixties Scoop. One thing I think we’ll focus on is an inquiry. I feel there’s a lot of education and awareness that needs to happen about the significant effects of that complete removal.”