The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unexpected challenges in administering Canada’s $875 million class action settlement agreement with Sixties Scoop survivors, including delays that some survivors say are creating a lot of frustration.
“We didn’t realize it would be almost four years later that we would get paid, even now we’re not even sure when,” said Colleen Hele-Cardinal, the co-founder of the Sixties Scoop Network, formerly known as the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network.
“We’re hearing the day school survivors are getting their money and their lawsuit started after ours. It’s very frustrating.”
The settlement agreement, signed in November 2017, set aside $750 million to compensate First Nations and Inuit children who were removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents between 1951 and 1991 and lost their cultural identities as a result.
The amount of compensation each claimant will receive is dependent on how many claimants are deemed eligible class members. For example, if there are 30,000 total eligible claimants, each would receive $25,000.
The process of reviewing all applications has taken longer than anticipated, said the claims administrator Collectiva.
A total of 34,767 claims were submitted as of last year’s application deadline. So far 36 per cent have been determined eligible with approximately four per cent of claims having been determined ineligible.
On March 27, citing the delay in processing claims and the COVID-19 pandemic, Justice Michael L. Phelan ordered the distribution of payments of $25,000 to eligible class members once more than 4,767 of applications have been fully and finally rejected.
The decision, however, came before the full impacts of COVID-19 were recognized on claimants and the claims process. Doug Lennox of Klein Lawyers, one of the four law firms that helped negotiate the settlement, said the process of denying applications was put on hold as a result of the pandemic, as the information that the claims administrator needs to assess applications is stored in provincial archives, many of which are currently closed.
“Our priority right now is to get eligible class members the payments they are owed as quickly as possible,” said Lennox.
“I know that these delays have taken a real emotional toll on many people and I am personally committed to getting survivors both the information and the justice they deserve.”
The firms have gone back to the Federal Court of Canada to ask for an interim payment solution for the 12,500 people who have already been determined eligible. The Federal Court yet to announce a decision.
Hele-Cardinal said those messages aren’t getting across to survivors. She said she feels like the settlement has been handled poorly with not enough clear communication.
“It’s not good enough. Whether we like it or not, this is what we got, even if we didn’t ask for it. It feels like a really bad deal,” said Hele-Cardinal.
“We want justice. We want more than just this. We want our stories shared, we want people all over the world to know what Canada did to us, and continues to do to our families.”
Nakuset, a Sixties Scoop survivor and director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, said she was never informed there was a delay in the compensation process until she heard it from another survivor.
“If I ever see a cheque, I would be surprised. I really don’t expect them to pay us,” she said.
“My whole life direction and struggles is because of the Sixties Scoop. I’ve never been impressed with the government. If they said they’re going to give it to us, then they should follow up.”
The Office of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said it wants to make sure those affected by the Sixties Scoop receive their settlement payment in a timely way.
“Canada fully supports class counsel’s motion to issue partial payments to class members with a valid claim immediately,” the office said in a statement.
“Canada has already transferred $500 million to the [claims] administrator for individuals’ compensation to allow payments to be made to the eligible class without further delay once the process resumes. The Government of Canada fully supports efforts to expedite funding wherever possible.”