A Toronto judge has ruled against the federal government in a class-action lawsuit brought by Ontario survivors of the ’60s Scoop, finding Canada was liable for failing to protect them from losing their cultural identity.
“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,” Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba said in his decision released Tuesday.
The next phase will now be to determine how much in damages the government owes the survivors, who were taken from their homes as children in the 1960s and 1970s and placed in non-indigenous care.
The plaintiffs had sued for $1.3 billion.
It’s believed at least 16,000 people in Ontario are affected by the ’60s Scoop.
The class action lawsuit was heard over three days in a Toronto courtroom last year, at what is known as a summary judgment proceeding, where the plaintiffs argued they had enough evidence against Canada to forego a trial.
“This case is primarily about children and the right of the child to enjoy a sense of belonging,” the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, Jeffery Wilson, said in court last August.
He said most Canadians take it for granted that they can speak various languages and share in the traditions of their ancestors, who came to this country from all over the world.
“Not one of us would ever reasonably conceive of denying our children of knowing … the core of their identities,” he said, “of sharing these experiences with their elders.”
The government acknowledged in court in December that indigenous children placed in non-indigenous care would have lost opportunities to learn about their language and culture, and that many children in those situations “experienced psychological or other personal harm.”
But it also argued that it is wrong to impose present-day standards of care for indigenous children on the ’60s Scoop practices.
The federal government, under both the Conservatives and the Liberals, had tried for nearly a decade to have the lawsuit thrown out.
Justice department lawyers made a last-minute attempt last week to delay the release of the ruling, asking Belobaba to hold it in abeyance because Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett had announced she wanted to launch negotiations for a settlement with ’60s Scoop survivors across the country.
The plaintiffs refused to consent to any delay, and the government withdrew its request on Friday.
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