Sixties Scoop survivor fears Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett will break her promise

A court victory, and a promise from the Indigenous Affairs Minister, have turned sour for Marcia Brown Martel, the lead claimant representing Sixties Scoop survivors in a class action suit in Ontario.

Canada's 'preferred route' remains out-of-court settlement, Indigenous Affairs spokesperson says

Beaverhouse First Nation Chief Marcia Brown Martel, who is the lead plaintiff in an Ontario class-action Sixties Scoop suit, was taken from her home community north of North Bay, Ont., in 1967 when she was four years old. She spent years in foster care, losing her first language and cultural identity. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A court victory, and a promise from the Indigenous Affairs Minister turned sour this week for Marcia Brown Martel, the lead claimant representing Sixties Scoop survivors in a class action suit in Ontario.

In February, an Ontario Superior Court judge found that the federal government failed to prevent First Nations children living on reserve from losing their Indigenous identity after they were forcibly taken from their homes. The decision came after an 8-year court battle.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told CBC News at the time that Canada had "no intention of going back to court" and was prepared to negotiate with survivors about compensation. But a new court memo has Brown Martel fearing that has changed.

"It's disappointing," Brown Martel said. "I thought that because [Bennett] said it so openly and so publicly... that action was going to happen that we were going to sit down and talk about real healing."

Court documents obtained by CBC News show government lawyers arguing the February ruling did not establish liability on the part of the federal government, and damages would have to be determined individually for each of the 16,000 claimants in the class action suit.

The plaintiffs were seeking $1.3 billion dollars in damages as part of the law suit. The negotiation of the settlement was supposed to be the next step.

16,000 additional individual trials

 "The government is calling for 16,000 additional individual trials to determine if harm was done. This would not only come at an exorbitant cost to tax payers, it would block access to justice for thousands of Indigenous Ontarians," Jeffery Wilson, lead attorney for the claimants, said in a news release on Tuesday.

But a spokesperson for Bennett said government lawyers were responding to a motion filed by the claimants, while the "preferred route" is out of court.

"We remain committed to negotiating with all plaintiffs involved in the Sixties Scoop litigation," said a statement from Bennett's office. "As the courts have clearly laid out: no two experiences are the same, no two voices are identical. We believe that each individual deserves the justice they are entitled to. This includes going beyond what the courts can prescribe."

Brown Martel said she hopes talks are still possible to bring healing "to all Canadians" and prevent other children from being stolen from their families.

According to her lawyer, Brown Martel had tabled a proposal to government that included direct compensation for survivors as well as:

  • a healing foundation to provide culturally appropriate supports to Sixties Scoop survivors and others affected by the child welfare system;
  • a scholarship program that would advance research to protect cultural identities of all Canadians;
  • publicly-funded art work acknowledging the history of the Sixties Scoop.

"Canada has the ability to say, 'we're going to sit down and talk, talk meaningful, talk in a way that is more than just talk.' They used to be honourable words, but I haven't seen the action that goes with those words so I have to reassess that now," Brown Martel said. "Are they just words to appease people? I don't know."