'Justice was not served:' Sixties Scoop survivors unhappy after approval of $875M settlement
Hearing in Saskatoon saw more than 100 survivors testify
An $875-million settlement for survivors of the Sixties Scoop has been approved, following an emotional two-day hearing in Saskatoon.
Federal Court Judge Michel Shore said he had exhaustively studied submissions for the settlement for the past year, which includes $750 million for the estimated 20,000 survivors, $50 million for a foundation and $75 million for lawyers' fees.
"I'm very pleased.... I think it's the right direction for Canada," said lawyer Tony Merchant, who represents 5,000 survivors.
However, the decision didn't sit well with many survivors who had come from across North America to testify. They say the outcome seemed pre-determined.
They noted Shore made multiple references promoting the settlement and its foundation during the hearing. They railed against the three-minute time limit they were given to testify. And Shore's decision issued after only 60 minutes of deliberation was the final proof he wasn't listening to anyone at the hearing, they said.
"Was this just to shut us up? There is no integrity in this process. Justice was not served," said survivor Marlene Orgeron, a member of the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba who was adopted out to a family in New Orleans.
"I don't feel I was heard. Our words just fell from the air."
Survivor Sandra Relling from Alberta said the decision "came far too soon.
"I don't believe it was a fair hearing. I think it was biased. I'm tired of the leaders of this country telling me what's in my best interest. I feel victimized again."
The Saskatoon Federal Court hearing was to grant approval for the national settlement. An Ontario hearing scheduled for the end of this month regarding claimants in part of that province will also be required for full implementation.
Shore said the administrator of the funds must disseminate and communicate details of compensation and services.
Judge's remarks called 'inappropriate'
Earlier in the day, some survivors of the Sixties Scoop had questioned the fitness of Shore to oversee the hearing.
During his 16-minute opening remarks on Friday morning in a Saskatoon hotel ballroom, some survivors in the gallery shook their heads while others walked out.
"I was disgusted; I had to leave," said survivor Peter Van Name, from Mikisew Cree First Nation, Alta.
Van Name, Melissa Parkin and other survivors said Shore was supposed to be objective, but had made multiple references in favour of the settlement. On Friday morning, the second day of the hearing, he appeared to promote the benefits of a foundation proposed as part of the deal, saying that's the best way people can have their stories heard.
"You need a tailor-made solution for you. We hope the foundation can recognize that," Shore said.
Van Name, who grew up with an adopted family in New Jersey, said the statements were inappropriate.
"It doesn't matter what I think now," he said. "They've already made their decision."
From the late 1950s through the 1980s, thousands of First Nations and Métis children were apprehended by child welfare authorities and placed in non-Indigenous care in what has become known as the Sixties Scoop.
More than 100 survivors from across Canada, as well as dozens of lawyers, government officials and security officers, hoped to testify at the two-day hearing. It was moved from the courthouse to a hotel to accommodate the large crowds.
There were other comments from Shore on Friday that angered survivors.
Shore told the gallery non-Indigenous people were harmed more than Indigenous survivors by the Sixties Scoop and other historic events because they caused non-Indigenous people to lose their reverence for the land and nature.
Shore made references to "barbarians eating fruit in trees," Nelson Mandela, and compared himself to a heart surgeon.
At one point, he said he'd stop speaking because he knew survivors had to stick to a three-minute time limit, but then continued speaking for several minutes.
"I'm taking all this time for one reason — a judge is a human being, lawyers are human beings," said Shore, repeating several times he understands the pain survivors are feeling.
Shore took his seat, and the rest of Friday morning saw lawyers speaking about the legal details and their fees.
"He talked like that for how many minutes and we get three? We get nothing," Van Name said.
Other survivors who spoke Thursday and Friday were upset by the process and the time limits. They said it felt like they were being lectured.
'It's a sham'
"This is just furthering the injustice; why are we even here?" White Bear First Nation member Anna Parent told CBC News on Thursday evening, after the first day of hearings.
"Everyone is offended. It's a sham."
"We have said from the beginning that this is a significant step but not the last step," reads a statement from the Office of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
"We know there are other claims that remain unresolved, including those of the Métis and non-status. We remain committed to working with all Indigenous peoples affected by the Sixties Scoop to resolve the remaining litigation through negotiation."
Survivors hope the money, the services and the acknowledgement of wrongdoing will help survivors and their families heal. Others say the deal is flawed but it's the best option available.
For those opposed to the proposed settlement, the maximum $50,000 payment per survivor is not nearly enough to address the profound damage caused. They also say the lawyers' fees are too high. Many also note First Nations and Inuit claimants were included, but Métis survivors were not.
It now seems the process — rather than the agreement itself — is causing the most anger.
As the hearing progressed Thursday, survivors grew increasingly frustrated. From the start, some called the security "overkill," referring to multiple units of armed police, undercover officers and other security.
With survivors sitting in the gallery, many of them teary or clutching handwritten notes, two lawyers and Shore spoke until the lunch break on that first day.
'Your suffering is recognized'
Once the afternoon session began, survivors were asked to testify and Shore said they would all be heard and their voices mattered.
"Your suffering is recognized," Shore said to loud applause. He then said survivors would be restricted to a maximum of three minutes at the podium.
Many survivors and their lawyers objected. Saskatoon lawyer Doug Racine said his clients have been waiting years to tell their stories, and asked for 10 minutes for each survivor.
Shore rejected the request, saying repeatedly that this was a Federal Court hearing only about the settlement.
After a 15-minute break, Shore warned survivors that their stories will be heard only if the deal is approved and the foundation is created to collect them. If the deal is rejected, "it goes back to the courts for years," he said.
Parent, who now lives in Saskatoon, said she couldn't believe what she was hearing.
'We were all rushed'
"We had to sit and listen the whole morning listening to attorneys and we got three minutes?" she said.
"He interrupted our elders. We were all rushed. Many people were re-traumatized."
Other survivors, such as Perry Boyko, Robert Doucette and Leticia Racine, echoed the criticisms.
Parent was taken from her mother in 1959 and raised in a white family in southern Saskatchewan.
"They hated Indians, so I hated myself. That was the attitude at the time, though," she said.
Parent finally met her grandmother at age 18, but didn't meet her birth mother until 2003 at 45. According to Parent, she was seized by government officials from her grandparents' care while her mother had gone off to take job training.
Other survivors had similar stories. They said they hoped testifying would honour their family and help them heal, but said the opposite has occurred.