Canada's Betrayal of 60s Scoop Survivors
Some died in prison while waiting for their settlement while others saw their claims rejected on technicalities. Those who were compensated were forced to re-live their trauma again and again.
by Nora Loreto
JULY: I get a tip on Twitter. My Direct Messages are a disaster, but I can tell this is going to be an important story. I reply.
On the other end of the messages is Craig*, a call centre worker. He tells me that he’s worried about how his clients are being treated: people call angry, agitated, crying. They call from cell phones and jail cells, landlines, scattered across Canada and the world.
They’re supposed to have won. They’re supposed to be getting what is owed to them. But it’s July, 2022 and even though the lawyers have been paid $75 million long ago, most of the survivors of the 60s Scoop have seen nothing – not a cent of the $750 million that was set aside to compensate them for the government’s breach of fiduciary responsibility (officially, what the lawsuit adjudicated) in having stolen them from their families when they were children.
Craig tells me: people need to hear what I’m hearing on these calls.
Every week for two and a half months, Roslyn called to ask about where her money was.
Roslyn, an approved member of the class action group for the 60s Scoop Settlement, usually called Monday. Each time, she’d get the same reply: your money should be coming soon. It’s been sent out. No, I don’t have any more information. Have you checked the website?
On the other line would be a call centre worker, hired by a subcontractor for the company Donna Cona, the group appointed by the class action settlement to coordinate claim members’ questions.
The call centre is the interface between the class action world of lawyers, judges, politicians and administrators, and the people who were survivors of one of Canada’s most grotesque actions: stealing Indigenous children from their families and placing them for adoption or foster care with white families. Before the settlement, there was no official count of how many children were taken from their families as part of what would be known as the 60s Scoop, but estimates placed the number as high as 30,000.
Peter Gorham, an actuary hired by the class action process to determine how many children had been scooped, determined that from 1951 to 1991, 22,400 children were taken from their families and communities, 20,800 who he estimates were still alive when he made his report in May 2018.
“ It was a sick sick game that played with my mind … I still do have horrible nightmares and get triggered constantly. I’ll be riding the bus and start crying. It’s been a horrible horrible horrible few years.”
—Sharon, 60s Scoop survivor
Roslyn is far from alone with her frustrations.
In fact, many, many class action claim members have been angry, frustrated and saddened by how the claim is being managed. Their distress is what triggered Craig to contact me to tell me what he had been hearing as an employee at the call centre. Day after day, survivors would call asking for information about their payments. Craig couldn’t tell them much more than what had been posted publicly on the class action’s website. Polite and patient, Craig would usually hear that the survivor was told conflicting, incomplete or incorrect information the week before, and do his best to give them the information that they can.
I don’t know if Craig ever spoke to Roslyn, but it’s possible. The experiences she described matched Craig’s description of how most of his conversations went. Roslyn told me that any time the call centre employees didn’t have an answer to a question, she’d be told that they didn’t have access to all the information. “We are just a call centre” she would be told.
“The call centre was set there just to put us off … They were just giving us blanket responses. We might as well have been talking to a machine. Our questions were never answered and our feelings were never acknowledged,” said Roslyn.
Craig’s call centre became the only point of contact that most survivors had with the settlement process.
The 60s Scoop settlement was not a normal class action lawsuit. Survivors weren’t fighting for compensation because their car’s wheels fell off or a plane ticket was the wrong price. The settlement was historic: a formal way in which the Government of Canada could address the wrongs that had been committed by the Crown through a small financial sum, to survivors who had not only been ripped away from their communities, but who then were often put into danger in the families where they were placed. The settlement was for them.
That is, if they even knew about it, applied within the designated claim period and were able to gather the documentation they needed.
AUGUST: Janice* emails me. She’s heard that I’m looking to talk to 60s Scoop survivors and she becomes my fixer.
She messages other survivors and directs them to tell their stories to me. She sends me screenshot after screenshot of survivors who are all saying the same thing: the process is brutal, they’re disappointed with their settlement and many feel like they’re in limbo, unable to get more information about when they will receive their final payment.
I ask Janice if I can interview her for this story. She declines. She prefers to get others to talk with me. For the next twelve weeks, she will email me dozens more times with the same message: we’re fed up, frustrated and angry.
The 60s Scoop settlement was approved in August 2018 and settlement members were able to start making claims as of December 2018.
Scoop survivors were not automatically enrolled in the lawsuit; individuals had to sign up to be considered, and then provide documents that demonstrated that they were eligible to be part of the class. They had to make a claim before August 30, 2019.
The settlement was the culmination of 23 separate lawsuits that argued that the federal Crown had breached its fiduciary and common law duties to children who were stolen from their families. The first case was brought February 2009 and certified as a class a year later, covering Indigenous people who were placed into the care of non-Indigenous people in Ontario, between the years of 1965 and 1984. One was filed in Manitoba a few months after the Ontario action, and then one in 2011 from Saskatchewan.
Survivors who didn’t want to be held to the terms of the settlement, which would allow them to seek redress through a separate legal process, had a narrow window of time to formally opt out, before October 2018. If someone didn’t opt out and didn’t see the notice to make a claim, they were out of luck if they missed the August 30, 2019 deadline.
The claims were supposed to be straightforward: if you were taken between 1951 and 1991 taken from your Indigenous family and placed with a non-Indigenous family either in foster or adoptive care, you were eligible to be part of the class. Eligible members could expect to receive somewhere between $25,000 (the “base amount”) and $50,000. It all depended on how many people applied: the total lawsuit award couldn’t go higher than $750 million, and so the amounts that individuals would receive would drop if more people applied for the benefits.
On paper, a claimant should have easily been able to apply, be assessed and receive a payment that was between $25,000 and $50,000. Roslyn tells me that she expected the $50,000 and it’s no wonder why: $25,000 was consistently mentioned to be the payout floor – the lowest possible amount. But when the deadline to apply was extended until December 2019, it sewed distrust among many survivors. Roslyn wonders if they extended the deadline just to reduce the amount of money that claimants received. Regardless, it meant that the possibility of coming close to $50,000 evaporated.
“We lost everything and we’re still trying to heal from it. I don’t think people know how displaced we’ve been and how it’s impacted our identity.”
—Colleen Cardinal, 60s Scoop survivor
On March 27, 2020, citing delays that were related to the pandemic, Justice Michael Phalen ordered that the federal government release $500 million to Collectiva, the claims administrator, and that individual payments would be $25,000. He also ordered that interest on the $500 million be collected by Collectiva and paid to something thst would be called the 60s Scoop Healing Foundation. The $25,000 would only start being paid out once 4,767 claims were rejected, reads the order.
After months of delays, on June 1, 2020, Justice Phelan ordered that the $25,000 that he had previously approved that March be separated into two payments, and that payments of $21,000 start being made to class members. Two years later, on June 27, 2022, Justice Michael Manson ordered that the final $4000 be paid to class members.
Sharon*, a survivor based in Edmonton, felt betrayed. After having been told to expect up to $50,000 for three years, she was crushed to find out that it would be only be half that amount.
She’s skeptical about the reasons for why the payments were delayed. “I think that the government knew already exactly how many people they were going to apply and they just put in that up to 50K to make people hope,” she tells me. “They already knew they were only going to pay out $25,000. Why put us all through this up and down hope? Give us a piece of string and then take it away?”
Three months after Justice Phelan’s order, he issued another one, which was another blow to survivors. On June 1, 2020, Justice Phelan revoked his previous order and instead ordered that survivors would receive their payments in two sums, the first one being $21,000.
In total, 34,785 claims were made: 20,703 were accepted and 12,683 were denied. Today, there are several hundred that remain in assessment for either needing more information or have the right to be re-assessed.
“It’s been physically and emotionally draining,” Sharon tells me. I’m coming out of it slowly but I want to be darn sure that someone knows about it all.”
Colleen Cardinal, a 60s Scoop survivor who’s current project is mapping everyone who was stolen from their families as part of the Scoop, says that while it wasn’t the money that was necessary for healing, it was an important way for the government to demonstrate that what it did to the survivors of the scoop was wrong.
“Initially we thought we’d get more for our lives for what happened to us. We grew up completely isolated and displaced,” she says. Colleen was taken from her community of Saddle Lake and raised in Ottawa, where she still lives. Ottawa is what she’s always known as a result.
“We lost everything and we’re still trying to heal from it. I don’t think people know how displaced we’ve been and how it’s impacted our identity.”
Colleen’s activism for attention and justice for 60s Scoop survivors rivals few others.
“Worst settlement ever” is how she reacts to my question about what she thought about the process, and then elaborates: it was unfair, opaque and survivors were mostly let out of the process.
At the heart of the problems with the settlement was a lack of accountability. Survivors had no recourse or ability to challenge decisions or find out more information. “Any time there was an issue they would say contact the lawyers and of course they were never available,” she says.
And worse, by not opting out of the class action, they would not be able to hold the government financially liable for what they went through.
Most of the issues that she heard survivors had was related to paperwork – the reality of a legal procedure that relied on the survivors themselves being able to find everything that they needed to be able to make a claim. Survivors had to get their own documents in order to prove that they were a survivor. The interface to deal with the bureaucracy was the call centre.
Survivors couldn’t ask to speak to specific call centre staff. They were told they had to talk to the individual they got on the phone. That meant that survivors had to re-tell their story over and over again, said Craig. This caused tremendous and unnecessary stress for survivors and there was no way to intervene to make things better.
One survivor spent an hour on the phone with Craig trying to describe his claim so Craig could locate it. When he called back another time, despite a note in his file saying to send him to Craig to avoid making him go through the details again, workers were not allowed to transfer survivors.
Craig said that he died in prison before the money was paid out to him.
“They’re trying put a bandaid on something that’s not healed, and ever so often they rip it off to look ‘is it healed? Nope not yet.’ It never heals.”
—Roslyn, 60s Scoop survivor
Cardinal says that the way in which the settlement was advertised made some people believe that they’d be eligible even though they weren’t. In addition to promising that amounts would reach $50,000, it wasn’t clear that survivors had to have been in foster care for a specific amount of time — not just that they had been in foster care — and so it left many people out who thought they’d be part of the class.
Craig heard the same thing at the Collectiva call centre. He said that people would regularly tell him that they had no idea about the class action happening and no one in their communities seemed to know either. The letters that individuals would receive were full of legal jargon, which was hard for a layperson to decipher and the only legal help available to survivors were class counsel — if they could get ahold of them.
When Sharon, who lives in Edmonton, applied to be a member of the class, she was initially told that she was ineligible. She had to enlist the help of a social worker in Saskatoon who helped her get her files in order. Her sister also had a difficult time with the process.
“It was a disaster. It was horrible,” said Sharon. “The way we were treated … our feelings were never acknowledged and our questions were never answered.”
“I was doing OK and then all this. I even needed to get medication from my doctor just to deal with Collectiva and then to get denied on top of it… it was a sick sick game that played with my mind,” says Sharon. She says she’s doing better now except, “I still do have horrible nightmares and get triggered constantly. I’ll be riding the bus and start crying. It’s been a horrible horrible horrible few years.”
And tragically, “My other sister died from the after effects of it,” she tells me. “I’ve lost a few people who were waiting for their Collectiva money. That’s terrible. Terrible way they’ve treated us.”
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For survivors who were incarcerated, Craig said that the only help he saw arranged for them was that they could jump the phone tree by indicating that they were calling from a correctional facility. Otherwise, they had to navigate the bureaucracy like everyone else.
“It’s undue stress,” said Roslyn. “They’re trying put a bandaid on something that’s not healed, and ever so often they rip it off to look ‘is it healed? Nope not yet.’ It never heals. We’re always in a state of waiting. They tell us to stand there and hold your breath and wait. It’s very very frustrating.”
Both Sharon and Roslyn had plans for their settlement money; plans that slowly evaporated as the years passed and they didn’t receive anything. For Sharon, her money ended up going to her daughter to help her and her children flee a hurricane. “At the start, I was going to set myself up with a little shop but with all this waiting, my money didn’t end up going to me,” she laments.
Roslyn and her husband needed her settlement money: “My husband is on pension and I’m on disability. We have payments. We have to go into overdraft, use credit cards and it’s not getting any better,” she said. Waiting so long for the settlement money was agonizing: “It caused stress on our finances, our marriage, our well being. I was in bed for two days with depression.”
“How fair was it that we needed to use our money to get through COVID?” asks Colleen. Many lived through homelessness and lost their jobs… and were living off their money.”
After all that time, the promise of a sum of money that survivors could use to help their healing along was swept under the pandemic wave. Easy come, easy go.
SEPTEMBER: The final payment, $4000, is finally making its way to many claim members.
Not all. Some would wait till October and even later. I’ve spoken to dozens of survivors who all tell me the same thing: they feel betrayed, re-victimized and angry. But where does the blame lie? Is it with the lawyers? Collectiva, the class action administrator? Politicians?
The payout was supposed to stand in for an apology. Colleen Cardinal reminds me: “They haven’t even collectively apologized to us for how they trafficked us. They haven’t acknowledged that it happened, not nationally, not internationally.”
When a class action suit is settled, a judge will appoint a company to manage the claim.
For the 60s Scoop Settlement, a company called Collectiva was the one they chose. The government gave them the claim money and it was their job to administer it to everyone, per the terms of the settlement.
As the class action administrator, Collectiva looms large over this story. They’re the ones who hired Donna Cona to open the call centre that became the point of contact for the more than thirty thousand people who applied to be part of the class. Collectiva reports all the claims that have been paid or are waiting.
After the lawyers moved on to other cases, Collectiva became the most important player in this process.
Settlement lawyer Doug Lennox tells me that Quebec-based Collectiva was chosen through a process during the settlement. They have handled many large class action settlements before: class actions related to Huawei, BMW, breast implants, Danone probiotic yogurt and excess costs for school supplies charged across Quebec school boards.
“(The claims process) has been one of the biggest swindles that the Canadian government is doing to us. Nothing has never ever changed, it’s always the same. They’re dressing the pig differently.”
—Roslyn, 60s Scoop survivor
Collectiva has no spokesperson, so every question that I posed to Collectiva, through the PR agency Argyle Communications, went to Lennox. When I tried to get information about why Roslyn was still waiting for her final payment, there was no one who could tell me anything.
Communications has been the biggest challenge in this process, from the work that was necessary to find the members of the class and tell them to sign up to explaining the delays and helping survivors get their documentation in order. It was the responsibility of Collectiva to do this work and survivors that I talked to all said that it was a total failure.
On May 26, 2020, months into what would be years of waiting for their settlement money, the court appointed Argyll to take on communications for the class, and to develop a communications strategy. Their fees were to be paid not from the settlement money, but by the Government of Canada.
Argyll submitted a communications plan, stating that, “Success means: Information is provided to Survivors—both through direct and public communications— in a way that they find clear, accessible, helpful, and respectful; Increasing the availability and accessibility of transparent and accurate information about the process and key milestones in the public realm, both online and in traditional media; Mitigating and addressing the spread of misinformation regarding the claim process online and in traditional media.”
Despite the feeling that the settlement took too long, Lennox argues that considering the complexity of the process, compounded by the pandemic landing a few months after the class was approved, it was not that delayed if compared to other class action suits. “Class actions take a lot of time, they’re complicated and sometimes complexities arise that no one expected,” he says.
For example, the records that people needed to access were not located in the same place: while most documents were held by the federal government, especially documents related to adoptions, documents related to foster care were held by the provincial and territorial governments. Sifting through 34,785 claims took time and resources and Lennox thinks that Collectiva did the best that they could have done.
“I’m proud as a Canadian that we are grappling with our history,” Lennox says, pointing to the precedent that the settlement established. The 60s Scoop settlement followed a list of class action lawsuits that tried to obtain a level of justice for Indigenous people from the Canadian state through financial benefits. From the Indian Residential Day School settlement to this and now the Indian Day School Settlement, the lessons learned from the process in of the 60s Scoop settlement case will be able to inform future cases, he argues.
Indeed, it has provided important insights into gathering a large amount of information from a scattered population. A new federal government settlement, for example, has set aside $20 billion to compensate individuals who were taken from their communities and placed in child welfare. This settlement, announced at the start of 2022, cuts off eligibility at 1991 – the last year of eligibility of the 60s Scoop settlement, de facto excluding survivors of the 60s Scoop who lived in the care of child welfare.
In October, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rejected the proposed child welfare settlement, arguing that it didn’t seem to ensure that every eligible claimant, of an estimated 300,000, would receive the $40,000 promised to them. It sounded very similar to what happened to the 60s Scoop survivors.
OCTOBER: I’m hearing that many of the survivors I’ve been talking to for months now have received their final payment. Many, though not all.
At the call centre, Craig has been re-assigned to work on the Indian Day School settlement calls, due to the drop-off in calls from 60s Scoop survivors. He tells me, “When I left, I was receiving maybe one call an hour, but it was always from extremely angry or desperate applicants.”
Not long after, his doctor ordered him to stop working for 30 days. Stress. It was finally too much.
I also try to get a comment from the federal government about all of this. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller is unavailable. Not a single moment in the next two weeks, day or night, to talk with me. They send me a comment before I even have the chance to ask specific questions. I don’t follow up.
In every conversation I have with survivors, the 60s Scoop Healing Foundation is mentioned. One survivor called it “absolute horse bullshit.”
The Foundation was established as part of the final settlement. Understanding that money for survivors was not enough, the logic went that the settlement needed to include money that would fund initiatives to tell the stories of 60s Scoop survivors and continue to organize activities of reconciliation.
The foundation, which did not exist before the settlement, would be given $50 million and all the interest money that the settlement principle earned. When I asked Collectiva how much they have received in interest from the settlement money sitting for so long, Doug Lennox told me that they don’t know yet: they haven’t finished paying everyone out.
The Healing Foundation was established on May 3, 2018 and its founding documents were signed off by Jeffrey Wilson, one of the lawyers involved in the settlement. The Foundation’s legal address is still the Orangeville-based law office of Carters, a firm that specializes in not-for-profits and charity, that was on the first founding documents and their website is out-of-date.
Colleen Cardinal is frustrated with the foundation too. Despite being in operation for more than four years and despite the fact that they have been given $50 million, she sees very little that survivors can be proud of.
“I have questions about how this organization is being run and I think it could be so much more in regards to commemoration and trading education curriculums,” she said.
Colleen, who is a founder of the Sixties Scoop Network, is engaged in an ambitious project to map every survivor of the scoop. In talking about the work of the Foundation, she says, “there are so many more people who are qualified to do that work.”
The board of directors is comprised of 60s Scoop survivors located all over Canada, and are all volunteer positions. On September 15, 2021, a press release issued by Argyle announced that Dr. Jacqueline Maurice was appointed as CEO. Since Maurice’s appointment, they have had two rounds of grant applications. They issued 21 grants that cost a total of $5.1 million.
I never had the chance to interview Maurice. She was not available, and so our correspondence occurred over email. She couldn’t point me to any financial documents, planning documents or an interest payment transfer schedule.
The Foundation can only grant money to initiatives that are coordinated by registered not-for-profit corporations, which has meant that Colleen’s Sixties Scoop Network has had to partner with non-Indigenous organizations to be eligible for the funds. She’s currently coordinating a large gathering of survivors in Ottawa and she’s frustrated that she doesn’t have the funding or capacity to bring everyone who has contacted her asking to participate.
“The government made a rash decision without thinking of future damage to my soul.”
—Dwayne Ross, a 60s Scoop survivor, on having his settlement claim rejected.
Lennox thinks that the Healing Foundation is one of the most important parts of the settlement. Indeed, many people had high hopes for it. In August 2020, a report was issued after a massive engagement process that asked survivors across Canada what they had hoped the Foundation could do. Prepared by Kenn Richard and Dr. Raven Sinclair, with coordinating help from Argyle, they held survivor engagement sessions in ten communities in Canada, and online.
The 60-page report is comprehensive and Sinclair told me that the findings were loud and clear: survivors wanted to be brought together and heal collectively. The report concludes, “Survivors would like to see free counselling offered that will help address the healing of the personal journeys of Survivors. Survivors would like help moving forward with their lives through education, employment or business ownership, and they would like to see the Foundation provide all necessities. Lastly, Survivors would appreciate support services that would assist them in healing themselves, their families and communities.” Among non-survivors, they heard that they wanted the Foundation to engage in remembrance and awareness work, to ensure that Canadians would know what happened.
But it was perhaps too ambitious. With a $50 million budget but very little formal infrastructure to manage the Foundation, the plans have mostly gone unfulfilled. And the survivors I spoke to for this story are angry that they haven’t seen what they were promised it would give them.
Again. Another deception.
NOVEMBER: Roslyn tells me that she is still waiting for her payment.
I tell her I will call the call centre, identify myself as a journalist and see what they say. They tell me nothing. She has to keep calling herself. I think about what Craigtold me weeks ago: call centre staff were encouraged to alert the Administrator of the class action if a survivor sounded like they might talk to a journalist.
By email he says that call centre staff were directed to “record details of conversations on specific topics like the discovery of graves or the Pope visit and send those to the administrator.”
Doug Lennox tells me that 98% of the 20,798 approved claimants have received payments.
It’s perhaps funny that it’s taken so long for me to mention the federal government in this story.
Canada’s genocidal policies of child theft were official government policies, and yet, the settlement has allowed the federal government to wash its hands of it all. In all of the reporting, the back-and-forths with Argyle and the documents about the settlement, the government has been a bit player.
The government paid up. That was their responsibility in this process. They didn’t fight it and they paid, as per the settlement process and agreements made over the course of the many years and many lawsuits that it took to land on a settlement.
I wanted to be able to put the questions I’d heard from survivors to Marc Miller, who was Minister of Indigenous Services before being named as the head of Crown-Indigenous Relations. I wanted to ask him if he had heard from survivors, if he was aware of Colleen’s initiatives or the struggles of the Healing Foundation. I wanted to know what his department was doing specifically for 60s Scoop survivors, especially the older ones who are getting on into their 60s and 70s.
Instead of making himself available to answer my questions, ministry staff provided me with a statement. It starts like this:
“The Sixties Scoop is a dark chapter of Canada’s history, the effects of which are still felt today.” The rest of the statement is factual, explaining much of what I’ve already written in this article.
It concludes: “Money alone can’t address the legacy of the Sixties Scoop, which is why Canada is committed to working with class members as they seek healing and closure, at their own pace.”
As part of the settlement, all class members released their ability to seek financial compensation through a lawsuit against the federal government again. For just over $800 million, they are, officially, off the hook.
The process has been, “one of the biggest swindles that the Canadian government is doing to us. Nothing has never ever changed, it’s always the same. They’re dressing the pig differently,” says Roslyn.
Colleen Cardinal thinks that the federal government needs to hold a public inquiry into the 60s Scoop. She wants to know who paid to scoop so many children from their families, how they justified doing this and who was involved. “I want this not just for the 22,500 survivors, but also for birth families and adopted families … they literally affected family relations everywhere. It had a double impact on family systems. Those people want answers too.”
There is also the more than 13,000 people whose claims were rejected, like Dwayne Ross. He was scooped from his community in Winnipeg and raised in British Columbia. When he applied to be part of the class, he was denied. It was too much for him to appeal the denial, and he isn’t sure why he was ineligible. “The government made a rash decision without thinking of future damage to my soul,” he says.
The only possible recourse for Dwayne is to consider a civil lawsuit, something that Colleen has been working with survivors more and more on. She’s hoping that people can gather the necessary skills to be able to use civil litigation as a way to get some level of justice from people who abused the folks who were stolen.
While it’s politically convenient for the government to want this issue to be finished, the trauma and pain of the Scoop doesn’t go away when the settlement is paid out. The scars from the 60s Scoop have been torn open again through this process and the government, if it cares about reconciliation, has a responsibility to do more.
Today, more than 50 per cent of all children in state care in Canada are Indigenous — a whole 3 per cent of all Indigenous children. The echo of the 60s Scoop, the Millennium Scoop, is currently unfolding. The patterns continue and the trauma is imposed and re-imposed.
If Doug Lennox is right, that the experiences of the settlement offer a path forward for dealing with injustices, Marc Miller would be wise to do everything in his power to stop the harm from happening now, rather than kicking the can down the road for future governments to pay off.
As disturbing as this story may be to anyone living through it, I wonder whether it might be more effective to include a timeline allowing those without emotional involvement to understand how the various components fit together. One can understand how those taken from their homes and communities might feel re-victimized by the compensation process, but I assure you the overwhelming majority of people who receive a payout as the result of any class-action lawsuit feel they were ripped off twice. It's the nature of the process.