Former CAS wards seek billions in lawsuit
The Attorney General of Canada is appealing a judge’s decision to allow former wards of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) to move forward with a class action lawsuit.
Robert Commanda and Marcia Brown-Martel originally launched the suit Feb. 9, 2009.
Commanda, of Dokis First Nation, and Brown-Martel, of Beaverhouse First Nation, were part of an era when Aboriginal youth were apprehended by the Children’s Aid Society in what has now become known as the 60s scoop.
The pair seeks damages for cultural genocide and identity genocide in the range of $85,000 for each claimant. The lawsuit seeks damages totaling $1.36 billion.
In an April 26-28 hearing in Toronto, Justice Paul Perell allowed the case to move forward as a lawsuit but on the condition that amendments be made to the statement of claim.
“We are gathering supporters and continuing with this lawsuit,” said Brown-Martel. “We know what has happened (the apprehensions), but our children don’t know what happened to their parents and grandparents.”
The launch of the lawsuit is meant to help former wards of the Crown to begin their healing journey, said Brown-Martel.
“It’s wonderful to have support and see people come together as community members, as family members. It’s a long process and a lot of people want to be part of it.”
That process may get a little longer as Brown-Martel said they were informed the Attorney General would appeal the judge’s to decision to allow the lawsuit to move forward. But it’s something that was expected.
“We knew whatever the judge would say or the ruling he came up with, there would always be an appeal.”
In the meantime, lawyers Jeffrey Wilson and Morris Cooper, who represent the plaintiffs, are revising the statement of claim.
The amended statement of claim will be filed by the end of July.
Once the statement of claim is amended, the lawyers (for the defendants) have 30 days to file a revised statement of defense.
“The case would then be going to a higher court – the divisional court with a single judge,” Brown-Martel said.
At the hearing in April, Terry Lind, law clerk for the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said there was a great show of support by observers who came in from Fort Frances, Thunder Bay, Timmins, and Toronto.
“We were just thrilled at the turnout in April,” Lind said.
“We had to arrange with the court administrator to accommodate 200 observers.”
Former Crown wards became aware of the class-action lawsuit through band offices, Facebook and word of mouth.
“The estimated claimants is in the 16,000 to 18,000 range,” Lind said.
She added, however, the lawsuit is limited to those children who were apprehended or placed in care within Ontario from Dec. 1, 1965 to January 1985.
The Ontario provincial government was the only province that entered into the 1965 Indian Welfare Agreement, although it was offered to every province.
This is not a case against the Children’s Aid Society, but rather, it is against the Attorney General of Canada, Lind said.
The Attorney General, in it’s original statement of defence, denies allegations made by the claimants.
“The plaintiffs and the proposed class were all, by definition, children whose personal and family circumstances required the intervention of Ontario child welfare authorities to address their needs of protection, support and care,” reads the statement of defence.
It goes on to state: “The claim alleges Canada has variously breached a fiduciary duty owed to the plaintiffs … infringed their Aboriginal rights, breached a duty of care … and violated international human rights conventions. The Attorney General denies the allegations and defends Canada on all of the claims.”
It is expected the divisional court hearing will take place sometime in November in Toronto.
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