On Wednesday April 20, a class action lawsuit was filed in Winnipeg for Priscilla Meeches and Stewart Garnett against Canada. It’s the first step in what could be a lengthy legal process.
Meeches and Garnett represent Indian, non-status Indian and Métis children taken from their families in Manitoba and placed in non-Indigenous homes as part of the Sixties Scoop.
“I want to see more action that supports the new purported position of the government,” said Scott Robinson, referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge of reconciliation to the country’s Indigenous peoples.
Robinson is the spokesperson for Koskie Minsky LLP in Toronto, which has joined with Troniak Law in Winnipeg to commence the class action.
The lawsuit is brought on behalf of all "Indian, non-status Indian, and/or Métis children who were taken … at or after Sept. 2, 1966, and were placed in the care of non-Aboriginal foster or adoptive parents who did not raise the children in accordance with the Aboriginal person's customs, traditions, and practices.”
It seeks $200 million in damages for breach of fiduciary duty and negligence and $50 million in punitive damages.
It’s the second Sixties Scoop class action lawsuit to be pursued in Manitoba.
The Merchant Law Group has also launched class action litigation against the federal government in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan on behalf of First Nations and Métis children removed from their families.
It’s not unusual for more than one class action to be filed on a similar subject, says Robinson, who adds that they are aware of the Merchant legal action.
“Often a court will decide what case will go forward and usually ends up staying the other one,” said Robinson.
A Sixties Scoop lawsuit is also being pursued in British Columbia, representing status Indians, who were living in BC and placed in non-Aboriginal foster care or adopted between 1962 and 1996. The law suit alleges that because Canada “negligently delegated Indian child welfare services” to B.C., Aboriginal children lost their Aboriginal identity and the opportunity to exercise their Aboriginal and treaty rights.
A case management judge will be assigned to the Koskie Minsky action. If the claim is certified as a class action, then issues common to the entire class will be determined by counsel from both sides. That will be followed by a common issues trial for resolution. If there are individual issues, then those will be dealt with as the third phase of the class action.
Robinson anticipates the number of those affected by the Sixties Scoop in Manitoba could number in the thousands.
Robinson points out that legal action is being taken against Canada and not the province of Manitoba.
Although the apology delivered in July 2015 by then Premier Greg Selinger to Sixties Scoop children “is nice… we think there’s more to it and there is some substantive justice that can be given to these class members and that’s what we’re moving for in this case.”
The recent decision in the Daniels’ case where the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Métis and non-status Indians fall under federal jurisdiction “was a powerful one,” said Robinson. “It’s certainly a decision we will be looking to as we proceed in this case.”
The only certified Sixties Scoop class action to date is in Ontario. In July 2013, the court certified the class action lawsuit, but the federal government appealed. In December 2014, the Divisional Court upheld the Brown lawsuit as a class action on behalf of “Indian children, who were taken from their homes on reserves in Ontario between Dec. 1, 1965, and Dec. 31, 1984, and were placed in the care of non-Aboriginal foster or adoptive parents who did not raise the children in accordance with the Aboriginal person’s customs, traditions and practices.”
Those who signed on to be part of the lawsuit had until Friday to opt out. Marcia Martel (Brown) and Robert Commanda were the representative plaintiffs for the class action, which is being represented by Wilson Christen LLP of Toronto.
The case management judge, Justice Edward Belobaba, held a case conference in June 2015 with lawyers on both sides. The next court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 23, 2016, in Toronto, which will be the trial of the common issues in this class action.