Action concerning Sixties Scoop to go before Ontario judge

Seven years after the Ontario class action lawsuit concerning the Sixties Scoop was launched, it is set to make its way before a judge next week.

The Ontario Superior Court is set to consider a summary judgment motion about whether the federal government is liable for the loss of cultural identity of aboriginal children who were removed from their homes in the 1960s.

A Superior Court justice will begin hearing arguments Aug. 23 after years of delays because of a certification battle around the suit. The action was first filed in 2009, but it has seen multiple rounds of appeals concerning its certification.

“Better late than never,” says Jeffery Wilson, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

In the so-called Sixties Scoop, government workers removed aboriginal children from their families across Canada and placed them with non-aboriginal foster homes.

Wilson says the Ontario suit has been filed on behalf of 16,000 aboriginal people, who say that their displacement as children robbed them of their cultural identity.

The class action suit claims the federal government breached its fiduciary duties it had to the displaced aboriginal children by not taking reasonable steps to protect their cultural identities.

“Cultural identity is critical to the healthy development of vulnerable aboriginal children which, as a fiduciary, Canada must take into account and take reasonable steps to protect,” the claim said.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, Marcia Brown, was four or five years old when a children’s aid society removed her from her family in northern Ontario, the claim said.

She went through foster homes before a non-aboriginal family adopted her when she was nine.

The claim said that she was denied reasonable contact with her family and community, and lost all connection to her heritage until she was 17, when she returned to try and figure out where she was from.

“This action says . . . is that a lawful wrong and if it is, then what is the remedy to make sure it never happens again and to give redress to these people who lost the core of their identity,” Wilson says.

This week, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett signalled that the government is open to working toward settling lawsuits across the country that concern the Sixties Scoop.

But despite that, next week’s proceeding is set to go ahead and counsel representing the government filed thousands of pages of submissions this week, Wilson says.

“While I’m not doubting, I’m not questioning the motivations of the government or their sincerity or commitment, I’m just confused,” says Wilson.

Wilson says this case is the first in the western world to ask the court whether the loss of cultural identity is an actionable wrong.

He added that he is confident the suit will not have to go to trial as the evidence before the court will be sufficient enough to make a determination through summary judgment.

“The First Nations people would like [others] to know that a wrong took place and that a remedy should be created to ensure that this kind of a wrong can never take place again to First Nations people.”

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