TORONTO – The federal government has agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to survivors of the ’60s Scoop for the harm suffered by Indigenous children who were robbed of their cultural identities by being placed with non-native families.
The national settlement with an estimated 20,000 victims, announced Friday by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, is aimed at resolving numerous related lawsuits, most notable among them a successful class action in Ontario.
Confidential details of the agreement include a payout of between $25,000 and $50,000 for each claimant, to a maximum of $750 million, sources told the Canadian Press.
WATCH: Carolyn Bennett fights back tears as she discusses ’60’s Scoop’
In addition, sources familiar with the deal said the government would set aside a further $50 million for a new Indigenous Healing Foundation, a key demand of the representative plaintiff in Ontario, Marcia Brown Martel.
“The (parties) have agreed to work towards a comprehensive resolution and discussions are in progress,” Bennett’s office said in a statement on Thursday. “As the negotiations are ongoing and confidential, we cannot provide further information at this time.”
The sources said the government has also agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees – estimated at about $75 million – separately, meaning the full amount of the settlement will go to the victims and the healing centre, to be established in the coming months, sources said.
The settlement would be worth at least $800 million and include Inuit victims, the sources said. The final amount is less than the $1.3 billion Brown Martel had sought for victims of the Ontario Scoop in which at-risk on-reserve Indigenous children were placed in non-Aboriginal homes from 1965 to 1984 under terms of a federal-provincial agreement.
In an unprecedented class action begun in 2009, Brown Martel, chief of the Beaverhouse First Nation, maintained the government had been negligent in protecting her and about 16,000 other on-reserve children from the lasting harm they suffered from being alienated from their heritage.
WATCH: Payout for ’60s Scoop victims is an ‘important first step’
Brown Martel, a member of the Temagami First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ont., was taken by child welfare officials and adopted by a non-native family. She later discovered the Canadian government had declared her original identity dead.
Her lawsuit, among some 17 others in Canada, is the only one to have been certified as a class action. Her suit sparked more than eight years of litigation in which the government fought tooth and nail against the claim.
However, in February, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba sided with Brown Martel, finding the government liable for the harm the ’60s Scoop caused. Belobaba was firm in rejecting the government’s arguments that the 1960s were different times and that it had acted with good intentions in line with prevailing standards.
While Bennett said at the time she would not appeal the ruling and hoped for a negotiated settlement with all affected Indigenous children, federal lawyers appeared to be trying to get around Belobaba’s ruling. Among other things, they attempted to argue individuals would have to prove damages on a case-by-case basis.
A court hearing to determine damages in the Ontario action, scheduled for three days next week, has been scrapped in light of the negotiated resolution, which took place under Federal Court Judge Michel Shore.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: National Chief reacts to ’60s Scoop ruling
One source said some aspects of the many claims might still have to be settled but called Friday’s announcement a “significant” step toward resolving the ’60s Scoop issue – part of the Liberal government’s promise under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people a priority.
Jeffery Wilson, one of Brown Martel’s lawyers, has previously said the class action was the first anywhere to recognize the importance of a person’s cultural heritage and the individual harm caused when it is lost.