Ottawa is right to settle with Sixties Scoop victims

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial – Ottawa has set aside $750 million to compensate victims taken from their families and another $50 million to create an Indigenous Healing Foundation. Both moves are welcome, but Ottawa and Ontario must take further steps to protect today’s children.
Oct. 8, 2017.   By

It’s taken eight long years of legal battles, but the federal government has at last rightly reached an agreement in principle to pay up to $750 million to Indigenous survivors of the notorious “Sixties Scoop.”

Like the residential school system that went before it, the Sixties Scoop, which ran over two decades between 1965 and 1984, was an attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children.

The tactics were the same: take children from their families and communities, even if they lost their language and culture. To make sure the children, who were adopted by white parents, would not return to their homes, the government even issued death certificates expunging any record of their Indigenous lives.

While court cases for restitution were launched across the country when the Harper Conservatives were in power, the Trudeau government continued to fight them, despite its election promise to work towards reconciliation.

Both governments argued that the scoop was a product of a different era when policy-makers genuinely believed that having Indigenous children adopted by white families improved their chances of escaping poverty, getting a good education and settling into a productive middle-class life.

In one court battle in Ontario, federal lawyers excused the fact that First Nations communities were not consulted before their kids were adopted out, as they were supposed to be under an Ottawa-Ontario agreement. Instead, they argued — yes, in this day and age — that even if they had been consulted they likely wouldn’t have had any better ideas about how to deal with the children.

Not only was the past program shameful, so was the government’s continuing defence of it.

Now Ottawa has taken two other steps that should help in the healing process.

First, as part of the compensation deal with Sixties Scoop survivors, Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced on Friday that Ottawa has earmarked $50 million for a new Indigenous Healing Foundation to help the victims reclaim their identity.

Second, it has set aside $75 million to pay the legal fees of the estimated 20,000 victims who are expected to receive $25,000 to $50,000 each.

That is little enough for a life where those affected say they found themselves caught between two cultures, neither of which accepted them. Still, the payments are a belated acknowledgement of the victims’ suffering.

Now that the Trudeau government has finally done the right thing by settling the Sixties Scoop cases, it should set its sights on correcting other ongoing wrongs to Indigenous children.

For example, in January 2016 the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal slammed Ottawa for discriminating — for 25 years, no less — against vulnerable First Nations children living on reserves by providing less money for child welfare services than would be available off-reserve, although the needs are greater. It ordered them to “cease the discriminatory practice” and redress the wrong.

A year later the tribunal ruled that Ottawa was failing in its legal duty to apply Jordan’s Principle, which says that no First Nations child should be denied welfare services due to jurisdictional disputes between governments.

Ottawa is dragging its heels on both rulings. That is unacceptable.

So, too, is the fact that even as the federal government takes steps to repair the damage for the Sixties Scoop, too many Indigenous children are being removed from their homes by Ontario’s child welfare system.

In fact, a 2016 study found Indigenous children are 130 per cent more likely to be investigated and 168 per cent more likely to be placed into care than are white children.

Parents and leaders in their communities have for years blamed discrimination and a lack of services for families who may be struggling with poverty and the ills that surround it for the discrepancy.

Settling the Sixties Scoop is an important step. But it is only one of several that must be taken to protect Indigenous children from racist policies that are still too often prevalent today.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/10/08/ottawa-right-to-settle-with-sixties-scoop-victims-editorial.html

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