A settlement with Indigenous people who were taken from their homes as children and adopted into non-native families is in jeopardy after lawyers for the victims rejected a judge’s decision that their fees are unreasonable.
Judges in two courts – one in Saskatchewan and one in Ontario – have accepted a deal that would pay between $25,000 and $50,000 to those who were stripped of their cultural heritage as part of what is known as the Sixties Scoop.
But Justice Edward Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court said in his ruling released last week that he is “not satisfied that $75-million for legal fees is anywhere close to reasonable.”
Sixties Scoop actions have been launched on a province-by-province basis across the country and the fees, which were part of the settlement with the federal government, were to be split among a number of firms.
The settlement was reached because of Justice Belobaba’s ruling last year in an Ontario case in which Marcia Brown Martel’s lawyer successfully argued that Ottawa was liable for depriving the children of their aboriginal language, culture and identity.
But Ms. Brown’s lawyers have rejected Justice Belobaba’s decision that the legal fees the government approved are unreasonable, and vowed to head back to court. If the settlement is unsuccessful in one province it will be considered void in all provinces.
On his website, Ms. Brown’s lawyer, Jeffery Wilson, says the settlement agreement is “terminated .. Brown v Canada is proceeding with scheduling a date for a hearing on damages, previously scheduled for October 11, 2017, but for the hope and dedication to a national Canada-wide settlement.”
David Klein, a lawyer for Sixties Scoop victims in British Columbia, said Monday in an e-mail that the settlement was a finely balanced result of months of negotiation. “We remain motivated to find a solution that will permit the settlement to move forward,” Mr. Klein said.
Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said in a statement Monday night that the Sixties Scoop survivors have waited too long for redress.
“That is why I am hopeful that all legal counsel involved will do the right thing and agree to settle that issue in a separate parallel process,” Ms. Bennett said.
Some victims of the Sixties Scoop have applauded the settlement but others argue that the terms are inadequate and that insufficient efforts have been made to inform the roughly 20,000 people who would be affected.
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.