A proposed deal struck by the federal government to compensate First Nations and Inuit people who were taken from their homes as children and adopted into non-Indigenous families may be in jeopardy as victims of the Sixties Scoop step forward to say the terms are unacceptable.
At least three of the people who now oppose the agreement, which was drafted by Ottawa and lawyers representing plaintiffs in multiple Sixties Scoop class-action lawsuits, went to Ottawa in October to meet with Carolyn Bennett, the Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations, and joined her at a news conference to celebrate the signing of the settlement in October, 2017.
Peter Van Name, the named plaintiff in an Alberta Sixties Scoop case, stood behind Dr. Bennett during that event, but says his lawyer did not give him enough information about the terms of the settlement before the announcement. Mr. Van Name says he does not believe the proposal puts enough onus on the government to reduce the disproportionate number of Indigenous children who are in currently in foster care.
"They still keep on taking our kids. Reconciliation is not going to happen if this goes through on their terms," Mr. Van Name said in a recent telephone interview. "I am angry. This is not the right way to do business. "This is a business they are trying to pull over our eyes."
Mr. Van Name's decision to voice his objections comes two weeks after Priscilla Meeches and Stewart Garnett, the lead plaintiffs in a Manitoba lawsuit who were also at the news conference, said they did not see the agreement before they went in front of the news cameras and have decided to opt out.
The reasons cited for opposing the deal are wide-ranging.
Some Sixties Scoop victims say the payments, which will not exceed $50,000 and will come from a $750-million fund to be divided among all qualified claimants, are inadequate. If there are 80,000 successful claims, they argue, each claimant will receive less than $10,000.
Some say the terms of the deal are too narrow. The compensation is for loss of cultural identity, not for any abuses that were suffered. It is limited to those "status Indians" or Inuit people who were adopted or made wards of the state between 1951 and 1991, not for those whose placements were temporary. And it does not include non-status First Nations or Métis people, or those placed with Indigenous families.
But mostly, the dissenters say, they are angry that they were not fully consulted about the terms of the deal before it was reached.
The settlement will go to a judge for approval in May and the government could cancel it if more than 2,000 qualified claimants opt out.
But lawyers who negotiated the agreement say they do not believe the number of dissenters will come close to scuttling what is being proposed.
Jeffery Wilson, the lawyer for Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff in an Ontario suit whose winning case prompted the government to negotiate the settlement, said a small number of people are spreading misinformation about it.
"This is the season, so it appears, for a few class-action lawyers who did not participate and could have participated in the settlement discussions, to go out into communities," he said, "and convince people that the settlement is not a good deal."
The federal government was not responsible for placing the Indigenous children in non-Indigenous homes: That was done by the provinces. So, Mr. Wilson said, there is nothing to stop any Sixties Scoop victim from claiming the federal money and then suing the province or the welfare agency for any abuse they suffered.
And, although the Métis were not included in this settlement, they can launch their own suit, Mr. Wilson said.
Tony Merchant, Mr. Van Name's lawyer, rejected the assertion that he did not fully apprise his client of what was in the deal before the meeting with Dr. Bennett. He also said he intends to go after the provinces for more money for his clients when the federal settlement is finalized.
And David Klein, who represents plaintiffs in British Columbia, said a lengthy statistical analysis conducted by his firm concluded that fewer than 10,000 people will qualify for cash under this agreement. That would mean each person would get the full $50,000, with legal fees being paid separately by the government.
Angela Ashawasegai, a Sixties Scoop victim, said she is angry with people who are speaking against the deal. Ms. Ashawasegai said she would rather accept what is being offered this year than see negotiations drag on indefinitely,
"They don't speak for all of us," she said of the objectors. "They are a handful, and they are trying to create a wave [of misinformation] that this settlement is not good. These are people who were never involved until last year."
But Colleen Cardinal, a co-founder of the Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network which is trying to muster opposition to the agreement, said she and other Sixties Scoop victims were left in the dark when the deal was struck.
"It's about due process," Ms. Cardinal said. "We didn't get to tell our stories like the residential-schools survivors, we didn't get any kind of process where we get a say in the foundation they are creating."
And Colleen Rajotte, who wrote last week on behalf of a group of Sixties Scoop victims from Manitoba to request a meeting with Dr. Bennett and who is trying to get 2,000 qualified claimants to reject the deal, said the settlement was driven by lawyers.
"We deserve some respect and a better deal than this," Ms. Rajotte said. While she would not want to diminish the horrors of residential schools, she said, "at least kids that went to residential schools grew up with other brown-faced kids and went home in the summer and knew their language and where they came from. We were removed from our families and our culture and we lost that forever."