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As COVID-19 delays Sixties Scoop compensation for survivors, court orders prompt interim payments

As COVID-19 delays Sixties Scoop compensation for survivors, court orders prompt interim payments
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With COVID-19 restrictions slowing financial compensation over Canada’s Sixties Scoop of First Nations children, a federal judge ordered interim payments go now to anxious survivors until processing can resume.

A payment of $21,000 for those already deemed eligible for compensation — which is about 12,500 of the 34,767 people who applied — was ordered Monday. The compensation is part of an almost $900 million class action settlement agreement with the federal government approved in 2018.

The “Sixties Scoop” is a gentle way of referring to First Nations’ children being systematically scooped up and moved out of their homes and communities that started in earnest in the 1960s

Survivors, expecting prompt compensation when they were approved for a share of the settlement, revealed their financial plights to court.

An approved claimant in B.C. said she and her family were becoming homeless. She had to drop out of an apprenticeship program to find a job.

“With the expected payment from the settlement agreement I was planning on returning to college, paying my credit card bills and debts, and applying for medical and dental coverage for myself, my husband and my three children,” she said in an affidavit.

COVID-19 made things worse. The pandemic bumped her to part-time hours. Unable to afford daycare for her children when schools closed, she turned to food banks and collecting bottles to provide groceries, she said.

In 2017, an approved claimant in Ontario had a leg amputated, which interfered with his career in broadcasting.

“I began making plans for how to use the settlement money to potentially advance my career and alleviate my health issues,” he said. “I had intended on purchasing a wheelchair van and new bed — both of which would greatly assist with my mobility and pain.” Now, his wife is unable to work under COVID-19.

The claims administrator, Collectiva, was working through applications determining eligibility. The process was already slower than anticipated.

Then COVID-19 hit Canada.

Provincial archives, where information is stored and needed to verify some claims, were closed and social distancing interfered with efforts to support their claims. In mid-March, the process paused.

At the time, 34,767 claims had been submitted: 36 per cent had been deemed eligible for compensation; about 4 per cent deemed ineligible; and 20 per cent sent letters saying their eligibility was in jeopardy without additional documentation.

A first try to address the delay came shortly after. The Federal Court ordered the release of $500 million of the settlement funds and said once 4,767 applications had been rejected, final payments to those already accepted could be issued.

But as the denials remained stuck at 1,400, that milestone wasn’t getting closer.

“We wrote to the court and said there is a real need to get these payments moving,” said Katherine Legrange, director of the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada, a support and advocacy organization.

There is a real need to get these payments moving

“People are getting older, people are becoming quite traumatized. People were counting on the payment and are now in desperate need.”

On Monday, with compensation denials still suspended, Federal Court of Canada Judge Michael Phelan agreed to expedite the process.

An interim payment of $21,000 — the minimum any claimant would receive — to each claimant who is already approved, is ordered. This will also apply to payments for each newly approved claimant.

In 1955, the federal Indian Act was changed to allow provincial laws to apply on native reserves and provinces started providing aboriginal child welfare services, although funded by Ottawa. Thousands of native children were taken and placed in foster care and up for adoption, primarily into non-aboriginal families in Canada, United States and Europe.

The payments are an attempt at restitution, but also a reminder of Canada’s racist actions against aboriginal people.

“It’s an ongoing journey to get answers,” said Legrange, herself a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. Born in the 1970s to a mother from Thunder Bay and a father from Crane River, she was taken from her parents at birth and placed in a non-indigenous home in Winnipeg.

The Ontario Superior Court must also approve the interim payment before money is dispersed.

The timing over final payments will be dealt with at a future court hearing.

“Class members deserve and are owed justice,” said Doug Lennox, a lawyer with one of four law firms that negotiated the settlement. “The interim payment is about keeping that process of justice moving. It’s the right thing to do.”

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