Two Manitobans hope to launch class-action lawsuit over Sixties Scoop

Two Manitobans want to take the Canadian government to court in a class-action lawsuit for the government's role in the Sixties Scoop.

Long Plain First Nation members suing the federal government for forced cultural assimilation

Survivors, First Nations people and members of the public gathered at the Manitoba Legislature last year when the Manitoba government officially apologized for the Sixties Scoop. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

Two Manitobans want to take the Canadian government to court in a class-action lawsuit for the government's role in the Sixties Scoop, which saw First Nations children in the 1960s to '80s removed from their homes and placed in non-Aboriginal foster homes or put up for adoption. 

The plaintiffs, Priscilla Meeches and Stewart Garnett, both of Long Plain First Nation, are accusing the government of forced cultural assimilation. 

Both were taken from their Aboriginal mothers at birth and adopted out to non-Aboriginal families. 

"This is a group that has gone far too long without any access to justice," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Scott Robinson, an associate at Koskie Minsky LLP.

The motion, filed on April 20 with the Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg, seeks $250 million in damages — $50 million for punitive damages and $200 million for damages for breach of fiduciary duty and negligence.

The lawsuit claims that because both plaintiffs are registered status Indians, under the Indian Act they are entitled to certain benefits which they did not receive because their true identities were hidden through adoption.
Priscilla Meeches was born on February 4, 1969. She was from the Long Plain First Nation, but never got a chance to live there, as she was adopted out at birth to non-Aboriginal parents. (CBC News)

Robinson said the plaintiffs hope to get the class-action certified quickly to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

"Class-actions take time. They are very large cases and this case should be no different," said Robinson. "We typically try to proceed towards certification as quickly as possible."

Robinson said the number of people who could join the class-action once it's certified could be in the thousands.

Some 20,000 Indigenous children were taken from their parents by child-welfare services during the Sixties Scoop and placed with mostly white families. As a result, many lost touch with their culture and traditional language.

Both plaintiffs state they faced discrimination and alienation growing up in non-Aboriginal communities.

Priscilla Meeches

Priscilla Meeches was born on Feb. 4, 1969 but never got the chance to grow up on Long Plain First Nation after she was adopted out at birth.

The name on her birth certificate was Myrna Jeannette Schmidt and her parents were listed as the non-Aboriginal adoptive parents.

Meeches was raised in Altona. The lawsuit states her Aboriginal identity was hidden from her for nearly 18 years, when her Aboriginal birth mother found her.

"Ms Meeches was deprived of her Aboriginal identify, culture, customs and background, as well as her Aboriginal status and related benefits derived therefrom," the lawsuit claims. 

It goes on to say that she hasn't been able to pass her culture down to her five children.

Meeches grew up in Altona, according to the lawsuit. It also says she battled alcohol and drug addictions.

"For years, she struggled with emotional issues, depression, suicidal ideations, anxiety, low self-esteem and abusive relationships," the statement of claim adds. 

Stewart Garnett

Stewart Garnett was born Gerald Myran, on March 19, 1974. 

Stewart Garnett, 41, was adopted by a San Francisco family as a kid, but has come back to Manitoba to try to retrace his heritage. (Erin Brohman/CBC)
Like Meeches, he was also taken at birth by the government agency in charge of child welfare at the time, Children's Aid Services (CAS). He was first placed in a non-Aboriginal foster home in Brandon, then adopted to non-Aboriginal parents a year later.

His adoptive family moved to the United States in 1984 or 1985, first to Arkansas, then to California.

Garnett eventually located his birth mother and they were reunited in 2001.

Garnett is also a member of the Long Plain First Nation. The claim states that he was deprived of his family relationships, has never married and has no children.

"His lack of ability to idenitify with and engage in his Aboriginal culture and language has proved devastating to him. For years, he has struggled with alcohol issues, emotional issues, and other psychological problems," the claim states. 

Garnett and Meeches are not commenting on the legal action under instructions from their lawyer.


Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been working as a journalist for nearly 15 years. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor