The Federal Court of Canada recently approved a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government on behalf of Indigenous children who were removed from their families to be placed in non-Native care.
Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan ruled in a June 20 decision the lawsuit encompasses the removals occurring between Jan. 1, 1992 to Dec. 31, 2019, or “the Millennium Scoop” as its referenced in court documents.
The families impacted by the decision include Indigenous peoples with and without “status” — individuals who either are registered under a federally recognized tribe in Canada or who aren’t because they lack either eligibility, or the federal government’s treaty recognition as a sovereign. In Canada, “non-status Indian” typically refers to individuals identifying as Indigenous but who aren’t entitled to registration.
The decision would also affect Inuit and Métis youth and their families who were not living on their tribal reservation — or “reserves” as the lands are known in Canada — at the time of their separation. The suit seeks a variety of reparations, damages and the recovery of certain costs for the affected children and families in Canada’s First Nations.
The issue is relevant below Canada’s borders. Last June, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland launched an investigation into the Indian boarding school system. The resulting 102-page report was released in May and Haaland’s “Road to Healing” listening tour, where she’ll hear from Indian boarding school survivors and their descendants, begins this weekend in Oklahoma.
“You know, before colonization, there was no Canadian-American border,” Haaland said during a hearing earlier this year. “There were tribes living on this continent. We are all relatives. We share a history together. We care and love one another.”
Canada recently announced Pope Francis will visit in late July. He apologized in a historic speech to the First Nations for the “deplorable” treatment they endured while attending Canada’s Catholic residential schools, resulting in more than 1,000 unmarked graves across the country.
Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Cindy Blackstock said compared to the far-reaching effects of the height of the residential school period, three times as many children are in state-run, non-Indigenous care today.
Current data from law firm Murphy Battista’s statement highlights the vast majority of Indigenous children who are taken and placed into government care, are kids living off-reserve. According to Angela Bespflug, a Vancouver attorney speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs, certifying this lawsuit shows a critical shift in that Canada’s government must answer for why it treated off-reserve children differently than those who lived on a reserve.
Last year, Canada’s government reached an agreement to pay $40 billion to on-reserve children, youth and families who were hit with discriminatory practices in child welfare funding.
The class-action suit will bring allegations not yet proven in court: The federal government’s actions violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and displayed “systemic negligence” within Canada’s child welfare system.
Judge Phelan’s decision said certifying a single class-action avoids the possibility of separate suits against Canada’s 13 provinces and territories “being pursued by one of Canada’s most disadvantaged groups” and noted the judicial efficiency of this approach. The federal government argued there should be provincial and territorial involvement in this legal process.
“Canada has apologized for residential schools, but it has continued the same policies under a different name,” Blackstock said in a statement from Murphy Battista. “We call on Canada to stop fighting off-reserve Indigenous children in court, and to step up to the plate and lead, and to finally bring about the changes that are needed to fix this deeply broken system.”