Yukon survivors of the ’60s scoop are suing the federal government and the Yukon’s commissioner for abuses they say they’ve suffered.
The representative action was filed last Friday by Whitehorse law firm Shier & Jerome.
It was filed on behalf of all First Nation, Inuit and Métis persons who were removed from their families or communities in the Yukon during the period from around 1950 to 1993.
Lawyer Daniel Shier told the Star many of the Yukon survivors are not yet ready to share their stories publicly but that the action will hopefully aid their healing journeys.
“I’m just happy people are starting to have this conversation and thinking about it,” he said.
During the’60s scoop, hundreds of Yukon First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were apprehended by the federal government.
They were placed into foster and group homes, taken into temporary and permanent wardship, or adopted into families and homes.
Consequently, the suit says, they lost their language and cultural identities and suffered human rights abuses.
Some children also suffered individual abuses, including psychological, physical and sexual abuse, neglect and forced labour.
According to the suit, this has resulted in psychological, emotional and spiritual injuries and a loss of cultural identity and ability to connect with and participate in language and culture.
It has also impaired survivors’ abilities to earn income and participate meaningfully in economic and employment opportunities.
The underlying purpose of the ’60s scoop, the court documents state, was the assimilation of First Nation, Métis and Inuit children into white, Euro-Canadian mainstream society, as was the aim of the Indian residential school system.
Suit alleges breaches
The lawsuit alleges that the policies, programs and actions of the federal government and the Yukon’s commissioner, as the official representative of Canada in the territory, “constitute intentional actions or attempts to destroy the class members’ national, ethnic and racial groups by forcibly transferring (them) to another group.”
This amounts to breaches of Canada’s obligations and members’ rights under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the suit claims.
The convention defines genocide in part as the deliberate infliction of life conditions to bring about the destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
The suit also says the government’s actions breached class members’ Aboriginal rights protected under the Constitution Act 1982.
This includes the right of “belonging to and participating meaningfully in traditional practices, customs and languages as well as communities, laws and cultures.”
The Canadian government and the Yukon’s commissioner also breached a duty of care owed to survivors, the suit adds.
This includes for:
• not adequately supervising nor investigating group, foster and adoptive families and homes;
• failing to investigate and inform children and their families of allegations of abuse or warn them of the likelihood that abuse would occur; and
• not ensuring that children were not placed in any danger.
The suit is claiming general and special damages and costs as well as resources for strengthening bonds to language and community.
‘“We’re looking for some creative solutions that go beyond (financial compensation) and are more in the spirit of the recognition of a historical wrong and the huge impact that has had,” Shier explained.
This includes traditional healing, counselling, and reconnection with families, communities, traditional practices, customs, laws, cultures and identities, and psychological and medical treatment.
The suit is a representative action under the Yukon rules of court.
Shier explained that this is similar to a class action lawsuit, but there is no such legislation in the Yukon.
Under the court rules, when numerous people have the same interest in a proceeding, it may be commenced and continued by one or more person representing the group.
It will be up to the Yukon Supreme Court to decide whether the action goes forward.
The right time
“To me, at a time when this conversation is being had right across the country, is the right time to bring it forward in the Yukon,” Shier said. In recent years, awareness about the ’60s scoop and its negative impacts has grown across Canada.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, released in 2015, found that ’60s scoop children “suffered much the same effects as children who were placed in residential schools.”
The consequences are still felt today, the report says, including grossly disproportionate Aboriginal child apprehension rates.
Several other class action lawsuits have been launched across Canada by ’60s scoop survivors.
A suit was filed in Federal Court last March, and there is a class action lawsuit underway in B.C.
Last Feb.14, Justice Edward Belobaba ruled in favour of survivors in an Ontario Superior Court decision, finding the federal government responsible for the harm caused by the ’60s scoop.
Earlier this month, Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, announced a settlement with victims, including $750 million for individual compensation, $50 million for a new Indigenous Healing Foundation, and $75 million for plaintiffs’ legal fees.
– With files from The Canadian Press