Federal government backs off on last-ditch attempt to delay judge’s ruling on ’60s Scoop

Marcia Brown Martel (left) is seen outside court in Toronto on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.
Marcia Brown Martel (left) is seen outside court in Toronto on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

TORONTO – The federal government backed off on Friday from its widely panned last-minute plan to force a judge to delay his decision on the ’60s Scoop class-action lawsuit.

That means Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba is now will now rule on the long-running lawsuit as early as Tuesday.

In an email to the judge obtained by The Canadian Press, a senior Justice Department lawyer said it would not proceed with a formal motion to have him delay the decision.

READ MORE: Ottawa’s attempt to block ’60s Scoop ruling slammed as unprecedented political interference

The proposed motion, Barney Brucker said, was motivated by the “prospect of a negotiated resolution” to both the Ontario action led by plaintiff Marcia Brown Martel as well as other ’60s Scoop litigation before the courts in other provinces.

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“The pan-Canadian resolution is intended to address in an integrated way matters which could not form part of any remedies granted by courts,” Brucker said. “In that sense, our purpose in seeking abeyance was not to delay justice for the Brown plaintiffs but rather to embrace broader justice for similarly situated persons.”

The situation erupted after Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett gave a vague statement last week that she wanted to negotiate with ’60s Scoop survivors. Days later, Brucker wrote Belobaba to ask him to delay a ruling he was poised to make on whether the federal government was liable to thousands of aboriginal children who were placed in non-aboriginal homes.

The Ontario action, launched in 2009 and fought tooth and nail by Ottawa since then, seeks $1.3 billion on the grounds that the children suffered harm when the government negligently failed to ensure they retained their cultural identity.

READ MORE: Canadian government seeking cross-country settlement over ’60s Scoop

Brown Martel’s lawyers, observers and even the judge himself called the delay request unprecedented and extraordinary. Brown Martel herself called it attempted political interference in the judicial system.

“When it comes to a court process, they have not acknowledged the wrongs, the detrimental history, that they have committed upon our people, our aboriginal children in this country,” Brown Martel said in an interview earlier this week. “They are trying to circumvent that legal process through political manoeuvring.”

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Nevertheless, Belobaba said he would consider a formal written motion before deciding whether to grant it. That will no longer be needed.

In his email Friday, Brucker said the government wanted to pursue a “robust and expedited process of reconciliation for the whole of the country,” noting that some issues touch on provincial jurisdiction.

READ MORE: No obligation to protect aboriginal identity during ’60s Scoop: federal government

“In view of the plaintiff’s understandable desire to obtain a legal decision without further delay, we will respect their choice and will not be proceeding with a motion requesting an abeyance of your decision,” Brucker said. “We look forward to receipt of your decision.”

The judge thanked Brucker for the note, saying he was now in a position to release his ruling on Tuesday rather than on Wednesday as he had earlier indicated – and would do so unless there were objections.

A spokewoman for Bennett said Friday the government was committed to negotiating a fair settlement for all those involved in this “dark chapter of our history – a settlement that focuses on the harm done when indigenous people lose their language and culture.”

A spokeswoman for the plaintiffs said they welcomed the government’s about-face on trying to block the decision.

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