Lynn Thompson and Valery Longman are the only two formerly adopted Aboriginal children named in a class action lawsuit launched against the federal government in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Regina but they represent other First Nations and Métis children taken from their homes in what has become known as the ‘60s scoop.’
In the Statement of Claim filed on Aug. 22 by Tony Merchant, of the Merchant Law Group, it is stated that action has been taken on behalf of the two women “and on behalf of a proposed class of similarly situated residents of Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada.”
“The benefit of people joining with others is a more collective strength when people are all together than when they are individuals,” said Merchant.
The ‘60s scoop’ refers to the Adopt Indian Metis campaign initiated by the federal government and implemented by a number of provincial and territorial governments. It is estimated that 20,000 children
(a conservative figure) were taken from their homes between 1960s and 1980s and fostered or adopted by white families. In many instances, the children were abused, sexually and physically.
Thompson’s and Longman’s stories are included in the 17-page document filed with the court and tell of multiple placements, sexual and physical abuse, loss of culture and language. As a result of her treatment, Thompson began using cocaine and eventually contracted HIV. She also has physical reminders of her abuse. Longman suffers from schizophrenia as a result of longtime abuse.
“We have to be certified which means we have to have a judge say, ‘Yes, this is a good case,’ and the case will go forward,” said Merchant.
His law firm has also filed in Manitoba and Alberta. There are plans to file in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Merchant expects certification to come in Alberta first and on the strength of that decision, Saskatchewan and Manitoba courts will likely follow course.
“If it’s not certified in a province, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re dead in another province,” said Merchant. “If it’s not certified in a province, we’re allowed to change our approach and can go back and try again to be certified in the province we were rejected.”
Meanwhile, Merchant asks others who were taken in the 60s scoop to register on his law firm’s website so they can be kept abreast of the progress as well as any settlement that may come about.
Merchant said the government may choose to “do the right thing” either before or after the case is certified. If not, a trial would proceed and a judge would set the damages.
The papers filed in court state, “The Class have suffered real and substantial injury, economic loss, and damages arising from, and by reason of, the aforesaid acts, omissions, wrongdoings and breaches of legal duties and obligations of Canada.”
“The government should say, ‘We were wrong with this program, we apologize,’” said Merchant. “Then the second thing the government ought to be doing, depending on the circumstances is paying some compensation to people.… In some incidences, the compensation should be very significant.”
Merchant anticipates a package for AIM children similar to what was struck under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, another class action law suit led by Merchant’s firm. Through the IRSSA, students who attended a prescribed list of residential schools received a set payment or Common Experience Payment, while those who were abused received a settlement under the Independent Assessment Process. The IRSSA was preceded by an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Merchant said it could be two to three years before the case is concluded.
A judge in Ontario certified a similar 60s scoop class action suit last year.