Indigenous people who were taken from their homes as children and adopted into non-native families are divided over a $750-million deal that would compensate them for being stripped of their cultural heritage.
Some applauded the decision of a Federal Court judge in Saskatoon who, on Friday, approved the agreement between the federal government and victims of what is known as the Sixties Scoop.
Others will be at a hearing of the Ontario Superior Court later this month in Toronto to try to scuttle the deal. They argue that the terms are inadequate and that insufficient efforts have been made to inform the roughly 20,000 people who would be affected.
But the number of opponents could be dwindling.
Colleen Cardinal of Ottawa, a co-founder of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network, which has been critical of the agreement, says she now realizes it could be a catalyst to healing.
“At one point we were very much opposed to it,” Ms. Cardinal said on Sunday, “but then when we found out the technicalities of the case and what actually happened and how the settlement was won, and we said, ‘We get it now, this is probably the best deal we’re going to get.’”
The agreement does not cover the Métis, non-status Indians and those who were placed with Indigenous families. It is limited to those who were adopted or made wards of the state between 1951 and 1991.
It would provide up to $750-million in compensation to victims, with that amount being divided among those who qualify. No single person would receive more than $50,000, and the payout would be reduced if the pot is split among more than 15,000 people.
A recent analysis conducted for the federal government by Ontario actuary Peter Gorham estimates that there were about 22,400 Indigenous children who were removed from their families as part of the Sixties Scoop.
But David Klein, who represents plaintiffs in British Columbia, said the number who will apply for compensation will inevitably be lower than the number of people who could collect as part of the class-action suit.
Sixties Scoop suits have been launched across the country. But the only case that has been decided was launched in the Ontario Superior Court by Marcia Brown Martel and was limited to children in that province. Ottawa was held liable for depriving the children of their aboriginal language, culture and identity.
In order to prevent a patchwork of province-by-province legal decisions, Mr. Klein and two other law firms that were handling most of the other cases drafted a single agreement with the government, based on the Ontario case, to cover Sixties Scoop victims in the rest of the country.
That was approved by Justice Michel Shore of the Federal Court on Friday. But it must still be approved by the Ontario Superior Court to become operative.
So, Colleen Rajotte, another Sixties Scoop survivor, said she will be in Toronto on May 29 to fight the case.
Ms. Rajotte said the agreement is a bad deal because it requires Sixties Scoop victims to forgo the right to sue the federal government for abuses they suffered. And she accuses Ottawa of not having done enough to tell Sixties School survivors of what is included in the settlement.
The main objective now, said Ms. Rajotte, is to convince more than 2,000 class members to opt out of the deal. According to the agreement, if that number of Sixties Scoop victims reject what is being offered, the government can kill the deal.
Robert Doucette, a Métis from Saskatchewan who is suing the federal and Saskatchewan governments for excluding Métis people from the proposed settlement, was also angry with Justice Shore’s ruling – and the fact that Sixties Scoop victims were given just three minutes each to tell their stories to the court.
“A lot of people who left those hearings, the Sixties Scoop survivors who were against this, were sickened, disheartened and sad about how they were treated by Justice Shore,” said Mr. Doucette.
But Raven Sinclair, an associate professor at the University of Regina who is also a victim of the Sixties Scoop, said she greeted Justice Shore’s ruling with some relief.
“I have some doubts about where it would go from here,” if the agreement had not been approved, said Dr. Sinclair, “and I would hate to see [thousands of survivors] sitting there waiting for a decision 10 years down the road.”