Debbie Paul sits at the kitchen table in her home in Sipekne’katik First Nation, NS, searching through her Sixties Scoop folder – a collection of legal documents, letters and faded photos of herself as a child at the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.
The folder contains a paper trail of Paul’s journey. She’s been looking for justice for years, and a letter she received last week makes her feel she’s no closer to a solution after all her work.
“Now it looks like my validation took it away from me,” Paul said.
The letter is a final rejection of the Sixties Scoop Class Action Settlement agreement, intended to provide personal settlement to “Status Indian” and Inuit children who were taken or “scooped” from their parents and communities between 1951 and 1991. They were put into the care of non-indigenous families, were crown wards or were placed in permanent care environments.
Paul points to the words “official rejection” and “no action possible.” These words stand out at the top of a letter on one page.
‘No way out’
“The door has been slammed on me,” she said. “I have no means of appeal. This is Canada. We are supposed to be a free country. I should be able to appeal that decision.”
In 2018, Paul applied for Sixties Scoop class action settlement agreement.
According to the website Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, “eligible class members will receive an estimated $ 25,000 in compensation for the damage they have suffered as a result of their experiences in the Sixties Scoop.”
When applications closed in December 2019, 34,770 people had applied. As of last month, 19,822 claims had been approved. A further 10,251 claims have been rejected without the right to appeal.
In 2020, Paul’s claim was rejected for the first time.
She was told she had no evidence that she was kidnapped by a nun when the Shubenacadie institution closed in 1967 and was brought to live with a white family in Massachusetts for a year. She says that during that year she was abused and forced to work as the family’s housekeeper, and then sent back to Nova Scotia alone without any explanation.
After Paul traveled to the United States in November 2021, she found evidence that traced her back to Rockland, Massachusetts. She sent all official documents she could collect and appealed the refusal without legal assistance.
Then came the letter from March 2022.
The reason for the final rejection is stated as inability to confirm that Paul was placed in “long-term care” with non-native guardians.
“I have not invented those stories,” Paul said. “That’s what really happened to me … I have this. I have evidence.”
Injury processes can be traumatic
Vanessa Nevin, director of health at the Atlantic Policy Congress of the First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, said going through claims processes like the Sixties Scoop Settlement Agreement can bring up childhood traumas and “big, intense emotions”.
“And when you’re denied a claim, or your claim has been lowered … you start to feel unworthy or unbelievable, or that what happened to you did not matter in the eyes of the government,” Nevin said.
“Because they basically say because [Paul] was not compensated that her abuse was not compensable. Whereas I would say it is very dignified. “
When Paul got in touch with a representative of Collectiva, the administrator of the settlement agreement, she was told she was rejected because she had been in care for less than five years.
“I was taken away, 12 years old. And it was not long enough … According to [the rejection letter], I did not suffer long. Excuse me. It’s a lifetime. If it’s happened once, it’s all of life. “
The five-year eligibility requirement is listed on the administrator’s website, but was not on the application form that Paul completed in 2018.
She said she would not have taken on the painful process if she had known of a five-year sentence.
“If it had been done in advance, the justification, you know, would have saved a lot of people grief,” Paul said. “When your memories pop up and you look at old pictures, you’re transported back … you do not forget.”
BC plaintiffs have more success
Doug Lennox is one of many lawyers across the country working on the settlement. His firm, Klein Lawyers LLP, is listed as an advisor to applicants in the British Columbia area.
The communications company for the class action lawsuit referred CBC News to Lennox as a spokesman.
Lennox said he has clients who were approved under the settlement and who were in care for less than five years.
He suggested that Paul speak to her lawyer “to review her rejection notice and understand it and see if there are more options for her.”
“We try [very much] to encourage plaintiffs to contact one of the law firms and get help because it’s a complicated process, “Lennox said.
Paul said she would review the settlement process for the settlement agreement without guidance.
In the settlement agreement, the federal government provided $ 75 million in attorney fees for the plaintiffs’ attorney.
Toronto law firm Koskie Minsky LLP is listed as the free legal advisor to applicants in the Atlantic provinces. But every time Paul tried to reach a lawyer at Koskie Minsky’s, she said she was either referred to a call center or asked to leave a message. She says she was never called back.
Lennox said he can not comment on another company, but he wants as many applicants as possible to be successful, even if it is not under the Sixties Scoop agreement.
“Not all claims are successful, and this is the case with every class action lawsuit. In some cases, there are plaintiffs. [where the] The claim does not fit into this class action lawsuit, but it may fit into another, “he said.
‘There was still damage’
Lennox suggested Paul send her rejection letter to her company so she can get a better explanation.
Paul hopes this is not the end of her journey. She said she wants to find new legal counsel with expertise in this subject and review her rejection notice.
She also wants to contact some of the 10,251 other people across the country whose claims have been denied and work with them.
“There [are] people who are still out there in my situation, “she said.” We belong. We fit [somewhere] in the mixture. You know, the damage was still done. We live it. “
Support is available to anyone affected by their experience in private schools and those triggered by these reports.
A national Indian housing school crisis line has been set up to provide support to survivors from residential schools and other affected areas. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.