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Ottawa to settle Sixties Scoop suits for hundreds of millions of dollars

Catriona Charlie, who was a victim of the "Sixities Scoop", gets emotional while listening to details of the court case in Ottawa.

Blair Gable/The Globe and Mail

The federal government is preparing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to settle multiple class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of First Nations people who were removed from their homes when they were children and adopted into non-Indigenous families.

A news conference is being planned for Friday at which the plaintiffs, their lawyers and Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, will announce that a deal has been struck to end most of the 18 separate legal actions that have been launched across Canada over what is known as the Sixties Scoop, sources said.

The plaintiffs, who were taken from their reserves in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, began suing Ottawa in 2010, claiming damages for the loss of their aboriginal language, culture and identity. Some of the suits, which were initiated province-by-province, also allege sexual and physical assault, but those issues are not part of the settlement to be announced this week.

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One of the plaintiffs in the case brought in British Columbia is Catriona Charlie, a 49-year-old woman born to a teenage mother on the Namgis First Nation on northern Vancouver Island who now lives in Port Alberni. Ms. Charlie speaks with a Scottish accent because her adoptive father took her and her siblings to live in Scotland in 1994, when his marriage broke apart.

"I am still trying to find out where I belong and where my true home is," she said in an interview on Thursday. "I have always called myself a Heinz 57, because I don't know where I belong or who I truly am."

Nor did Ms. Charlie's adoptive parents know how to take care of her. In 1973, her father wrote a letter addressed to friends that described the helplessness he and his wife felt trying to raise a young Indigenous daughter. "There were days when we just wished they would hurry up and take Catriona away, and be done with," he wrote. "We're not interested in raising an Indian child to be pseudo-white."

In February, an Ontario judge ruled that Canada had failed in its duty of care for the Sixties Scoop survivors in that province.

Under a 1965 deal with Ontario, Ottawa allowed the province to include on-reserve Indigenous people in its child welfare system. The agreement explicitly said bands had to be consulted before Ontario welfare services, such as taking children into care, were applied to them. But that did not happen, and the judge found that neither the children nor their foster or adoptive parents were given information about the children's aboriginal heritage or about the educational and other benefits they were entitled to receive.

Based on that decision, the federal government entered into negotiations to settle all of the outstanding claims across the country.

Over the course of nine days of meetings that started in May and continued until last week, with Justice Michel Shore of the Federal Court acting as mediator, a deal was reached in a majority of the suits.

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The overall package will cost the government $550-million to $800-million, not including lawyers' fees. Most of that will go to people who were harmed. The amount also includes $50-million for initiatives aimed at reconciliation and healing, and helping the victims recapture their identity.

An initial cap of $50,000 has been placed on the amount that will go to each victim. But that could go down, depending upon how many Sixties Scoop survivors step forward to claim a portion of the overall package.

Estimates of the number of victims vary from 5,000 to 30,000. It will likely take two years to sort out who should be compensated and to get the money into their hands.

And, to ensure that none of the money intended for the Sixties Scoop survivors is paid to their lawyers, a separate fund will cover legal costs that will range between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the settlement awards.

David Klein, lawyer for Ms. Charlie, said the compensation that will go to his client is largely symbolic. Although it is not possible to turn back time and give the Sixties Scoop children back their heritage, it means much to the victims that the government has publicly recognized the harm and has apologized.

Mr. Klein praised the bravery of Ms. Charlie and other Sixties Scoop survivors who, he said, have demonstrated courage in putting their stories out for public scrutiny.

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Ms. Charlie said an apology is important, but accepting it has been difficult "because I am still struggling to this day ... There are times I just hate myself for who I am."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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