APTN National News
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says Canada will not appeal a decision by an Ontario judge Tuesday that found the federal government failed in its fiduciary duty to protect Indigenous children swept up by the 60s Scoop.
That’s when thousands of children were torn from their families and sent to live in non-Indigenous homes or in foster care.
“Our government is determined to do this job of reconciliation in a good way with recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership,” said Bennett in Ottawa.
When asked if the government was going to appeal the judge’s ruling Bennett responded: “Absolutely not.”
Justice Edward Belobaba ruled that Canada is liable for breaching a fiduciary duty to Indigenous children.
“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 in his ruling.
The judge also stated that the class action suit involving thousands of First Nations children can move forward to the damages assessment stage.
“The plaintiff is entitled to the costs of this summary judgement motion,” Belobaba said. “These costs are likely to be substantial. If the parties cannot agree on the costs I would be pleased to receive brief written submissions from the plaintiff within 14 days and from the defendant within 14 days thereafter.”
The plaintiffs are asking for $1.3 billion in damages.
The Ontario action was filed in 2009 alleges about 16,000 at-risk indigenous children in Ontario suffered a devastating loss of identity when they were placed in non-aboriginal homes from 1965 to 1984 under terms of a federal-provincial agreement – an agreement Belobaba said the government breached.
The plaintiffs maintain the government violated the agreement by failing to consult with the various Indian bands about the child-welfare program – an assertion Belobaba accepted.
The government does admit the children may have suffered harm but insists it is not liable because it had no “duty of care” toward them, and that it was acting with good intentions within the prevailing norms of the day.
In an abrupt move, Canada tried to get the judge to drop the case after it decided to try and negotiate with survivors rather than wait for a ruling. That was not successful.
Similar claims have been filed on behalf of Indigenous children in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia, but none have been certified.
Belobaba is directing counsel on both sides to schedule a case conference to discuss next steps in the settlement.
“We hope that we’ll meet by the end of the month,” said Bennett.
— with files from the Canadian Press