The wheels are officially in motion for a proposed class-action lawsuit involving Inuit children in the northern Quebec region of Nunavik.
On Monday, a trio of law firms filed an application in Quebec Superior Court on behalf of all Inuit children who endured “decades of allegedly discriminatory and unlawful underfunding of child welfare” and other essential services in the north.
If approved, the class-action would impact all Inuit children who were taken into the Quebec child welfare system since 1975, their parents or caregiving grandparents, as well as all Inuit children who sought an essential service and “faced a denial, delay, or gap in services,” according to the court application.
In their application, Sotos Class Actions, Kugler Kandestin LLP, and Coupal Chauvelot allege both the Quebec and federal governments have “breached class members’ constitutional right to equality” by “failing to provide child welfare and other essential health and social services on a level that is substantively equal to what any other Canadian child receives.”
The federal and Quebec provincial governments have shared responsibility for service provision in Nunavik – including child welfare services – since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975.
Since then, several public commissions have drawn attention to service gaps, delays and “gross underfunding” of child welfare services in Nunavik.
Together, the three firms believe Inuit children in Quebec “suffered avoidable family breakups, horrendous abuse, and neglect.”
“Instead of addressing these chronic failures, the two governments evaded responsibility, and each pointed to each other as the one with the obligation and jurisdiction to provide the service needed,” according to a joint statement released by the three law firms on Tuesday.
The petitioners in the suit, Lucy Tookalook and Tanya Jones, are both survivors of the child welfare system in Nunavik.
According to the release, they are speaking out on behalf of youth who were “unnecessarily placed in state care in droves” or who were “overlooked by the system altogether.”
“I am taking action today because I want to bring justice to my people – my people who have been treated as less than human for decades,” Tookalook said in a statement.
Tookalook was taken from her mother at birth and sent away to a hospital in Montreal, where she remained “alone and with no support” for seven months, said in the release,
“I was then returned to Nunavik to a system that utterly abandoned me and other Inuit children in the face of heartless neglect and abuse,” Tookalook said.
“I want Inuit children in Nunavik to have their day in court,” Jones said in the statement. “I want their pain and suffering to be heard, felt, and repaired.
This potential class action follows in the footsteps of another launched by a First Nations man in Quebec and another in Nova Scotia.
The federal government, First Nations organizations and class-action lawyers are currently working out the details of two agreements in principle worth $40 billion.
The $20 billion deal, reached New Year’s Eve, would compensate tens of thousands of families victimized over the last three decades on-reserve and in the Yukon, with another roughly $20 billion over five years earmarked for program reform.
According to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, it’s the largest settlement in Canadian history.
APTN News reached out to CIRNAC for comment on the latest class-action application but did not hear back before this story was posted.
In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Canada discriminated against First Nations children on reserve and in the Yukon by under-funding child welfare systems compared to children living off-reserve.
The Quebec Superior Court will rule at a later date whether the class-action can proceed.
Read the Statement of Claim here: