'We were wronged': Class action says Sask. should have sought compensation for kids harmed in foster care
Merchant Law pursuing similar suits in Manitoba, B.C.
A woman from Muskoday First Nation says a class action lawsuit against the province is the only avenue she has to seek acknowledgement that the government and social services wronged her in the way they handled abuses she suffered while in foster care.
Cori Pederson was sexually and physically abused as a child, as was her sister. They were in the same foster home until it was shut down.
Even though her former foster father was convicted, Pederson said she still suffers from the effects of being placed in the abusive home and of the abuses that carried on unchecked.
"My eye was blackened so bad that my eye was shut, and my eye was cut. That was from being slapped and punched around. I was a child. My sister was younger than me," Pederson said.
She is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit, filed by Merchant Law, alleging that the government of Saskatchewan had a responsibility to consider seeking compensation for children who were hurt due to wrongdoing or crime while they were in government care.
The firm says it is specifically representing people who were in the foster care system between 1959 and 2017.
The claim seeks to recover damages flowing from the province's alleged failure to pursue compensation for these children under certain "victims of crime" legislation or through a civil suit.
The court has not yet ruled on whether the suit has merit.
Pederson said it's not about money.
"I want to be heard. This is something that can't be just covered up and left on the back burner. It's not gonna be swept under the rug no longer," Pederson said.
She said she has tried to press further charges against her past foster family but was told there was not enough evidence, and that records from social services don't come close to capturing the physical, sexual and emotional abuse she suffered.
"It's time for social services to step up and accept that they made mistakes and they were wrong instead of denying everything," Pederson said.
Outlining the legal argument
Merchant Law will be tasked at trial with proving the province has duties to protect the legal rights of children in care and to take steps to obtain compensation on their behalf, and to define those duties.
Lawyer Tony Merchant said the rationale for the class action is that when social services takes a child in, the government takes over the parenting role.
"Let's take the worst example, girls sexually abused. Any parent would consider financial recovery and most parents would seek financial recovery if it were available because that would be helpful for the child," he said.
Merchant said not all parents would launch legal or civil action if physical or sexual abuse happened to their own child, but they would at least consider it.
"[The government] didn't even think about it. They didn't talk to lawyers, they didn't consult with the real parents," he said.
Merchant is pursuing similar lawsuits in Manitoba and B.C., but so far Saskatchewan is the only province where the case has been confirmed as a class action.
While the Court of Queen's Bench confirmed the class action suit in January of 2018, it took until Wednesday for Merchant Law to issue a court-approved news release that details who could potentially be included in the class.
The firm has set up a special website to inform people that they will be automatically included in the lawsuit if they fit into the class of people described in the filing
It says a person could be affected if "you were placed in the Saskatchewan foster care system and while in the system, you suffered injury as a result of a crime or wrongdoing." People must opt out not to be included and have until the end of October to do so.
Merchant said he thinks thousands of people would be eligible since the class action covers more than sixty years.
Merchant Law is known for its class action lawsuits, including suits around the Sixties Scoop and Indian Residential Schools that awarded millions to survivors across the country. Both cases have been subject to criticism over the compensation Merchant Law received in the matters.
"Money can't solve problems, and can't make up for wrongs but it's the only thing we can do when they've been the subject of wrongs," Merchant said.
Pederson started the action in 2012 after years of struggling with drugs and alcohol. She said she is now on the right track and looking forward to the matter coming to an end.
She lives on her home reserve of Muskoday, which is near Prince Albert about 150 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
She said she will continue working away as a justice co-ordinator, being a positive support for many who have been through similar experiences to her own.