Brown v Canada (AG), 2018 ONSC 3429

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

The Settlement Agreement, other than the legal fees provision, is approved. The $75 million legal fees provision is excessive, unreasonable and is not approved. Class counsel in Brown have agreed to de-link the legal fees provision from the rest of the Settlement Agreement. The Court should be advised when a revised section 11.01 has been agreed to by the parties.

(This is the third of three consecutive Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch Blog posts regarding the Sixties Scoop Class Action judgements.)

The Sixties Scoop has been nationally acknowledged as a “dark and painful chapter in Canada’s history”, prompting twenty-three actions across the country. The Ontario action, Brown v Canada, was the most advanced. After nine years of litigation, it was Brown that established Canada’s liability in tort to the Sixties Scoop survivors in Ontario. Canada agreed to settle Brown but only if the other actions were included in one nation-wide settlement.

Justice Michel Shore of the Federal Court mediated the national settlement. The parties reached an agreement in principle on August 30, 2017. The national settlement agreement (“the Settlement Agreement”) was formally executed on November 30, 2017. As part of the national settlement, the other actions were consolidated into an omnibus Federal Court action, referred to as the Riddle action. On May 11, 2018 Justice Shore approved the Settlement Agreement for the purposes of the Riddle action as he was satisfied that it was fair, reasonable and in the best interests of the class members. The Settlement Agreement is before this Court for a similar approval in the context of the Brown action. It is clear from the language in the Agreement that the approval of both courts is required and if any part of the Settlement Agreement is declined, then the Agreement will not take effect and Justice Shore’s approval order in Riddle would be rendered null and void.

This Court had two concerns, however, after reviewing the Settlement Agreement. The first concern was the reasonableness of the $25,000 to $50,000 payment as damages for the loss of one’s Indigenous cultural identity given the harm that was sustained by the class members. The Court was satisfied after reviewing all the evidence and potential pitfalls given the risks of further litigation, that the payment, although modest for the loss of one’s Indigenous cultural identity, was ultimately fair, reasonable and should be approved. The second concern involved the $75 million payment to class counsel for legal fees. The Court viewed the $75 million for legal fees as excessive, unreasonable and was not approved. The focus is the global payment of $75 million in legal fees and not the internal divisions agreed to by class counsel.

The two most important factors in determining the reasonableness of legal fees are risk incurred and results achieved. It is the risk incurred that “most justifies” a premium in class proceedings and is primarily the risk of non-payment. In a case where a class action has been settled with a minimal investment of time or effort, the risk of non-payment causing “personal consequences” to class counsel is relatively insignificant. In a case where the settlement has been achieved after many years of effort with an enormous investment of time and money, the risk of non-payment causing “personal consequences” to class counsel can be significant. Windfalls should be avoided because class action litigation is not a lottery and the CPA was not enacted to make lawyers wealthy.

The percentage of the fund approach that bears no relation to the significance of the risk incurred should not be used in a mega-fund settlement. In Cannon, the Court embraced the percentage of the fund approach because almost all of the settlements were under $40 million. The Cannon percentage of the fund approach remains viable but should be limited to settlement amounts that are common-place, that is, under $50 million. Cannon should never be used in the mega-fund case where the settlement or judgment is more than $100 million. If there is evidence before the Court that the requested legal fees are excessive, the class action judge should examine the risk incurred to help decide whether the amount being requested by class counsel is indeed fair and reasonable.

The risk incurred by class counsel in Brown was, in a word, enormous. Bluntly put, it was as close a case of class counsel “betting the firm” as had been seen. The nation-wide settlement with Canada for some 23 actions, was fuelled in large part by what was achieved in the Brown action. It was therefore beyond dispute for the Court that class counsel in Brown deserve a significant premium in the calculation of their legal fees. Compared to Brown, the risks incurred by class counsel in Riddle are at the opposite end of the spectrum and were not significant. The evidence strongly suggested opportunistic filings and that the risks incurred by the Riddle class counsel in their respective actions did not justify a Cannon-type percentage of the fund approach.

Because the $75 million legal fees provision is not approved, the rest of the Settlement Agreement cannot take effect unless the legal fees provision is de-linked from the other settlement provisions that have been approved. Class counsel in Brown have agreed to de-link the $75 million fees provision from the rest of the Settlement Agreement in the interests of their class members. Class counsel in Riddle have not yet agreed to any such de-linking. The Settlement Agreement has gone back to the negotiating table with the focus being the $75 million legal fees provision, at least for class counsel in Brown. The Court commented that it would be beyond tragic if the Sixties Scoop Settlement Agreement was derailed or delayed because of an unseemly squabble among class counsel over legal fees.

Riddle v Her Majesty the Queen, 2018 FC 641 [Sixties Scoop Class Action]

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre

This action is certified as a class proceeding. The Settlement Agreement has been approved with the modification that there is dissemination of its information to every part of Canada to ensure that every eligible person receives the payment allotted for such.

(This is the second of three consecutive Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch Blog posts regarding the Sixties Scoop Class Action judgements.)

The precedents in Brown v Canada are historical and exemplary in the understanding of cultural identity as essential to the human personality. By an order dated January 4, 2018, Riddle, White and Charlie Actions were consolidated. The Parties agree that the Settlement per approval in Brown v Canada in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and in the action constituted in the Federal Court be consistent with the terms of the Settlement Agreement.

Twenty-three class proceedings at different stages were at one time across Canada including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Albert and British Columbia in respect of the Sixties Scoop. These actions sought “damages for the harm that was caused… by the alleged breaches of fiduciary and common law duty on the part of the Federal Crown” (Brown v Canada (AG), 2013 ONSC 5637). On February 1, 2017, the Federal Government announced its intention to initiate mediation in regards to the Sixties Scoop litigation across the country. During the mediation, a wide, all-encompassing range of comprehensive topics were discussed and negotiated.

The essential terms of the Settlement are as follows: (1) a Foundation with a mission to enable change and reconciliation as well as access to healing, wellness, commemoration and education; (2) Eligible Class Members; (3) The Compensation Scheme: Canada will not be required to pay more than $750,000,000.00. Depending on the number of Approved Claimants, each Eligible Class Member who submits a claim shall receive a compensation of a maximum $50,000; (4) The Claims Process: is intended to be simple, paper-based, cost effective, user-friendly and to minimize the burden on the applicant by a one page form; (5) Releases: The class members agree to release Canada from any and all claims that have been pleaded or could have been pleaded with respect to their placement in foster care, Crown wardship or permanent wardship, and/or adoption; (6) Opt-outs: Should 2,000 class members opt out, Canada, in its sole discretion, may decide not to proceed with the Settlement Agreement and shall have no further obligations in this regard; (7) Legal Fees: the payment of Class Counsel from a separate Fund. Class counsel further agrees to perform any additional work required on behalf of class members at no additional charge; (8) Settlement Approval: The Parties agree that the Settlement per approval in Brown v Canada in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and in the action constituted in the Federal Court be consistent with the terms of the Settlement Agreement.

There was some objection to the quantum of legal fees. The Court agreed that the fees sought are fair and reasonable, mainly because class counsel will remain available to the claimants following the approval of the Settlement and because the requested fees are less than 10% of the overall global payment. This litigation is “historically unique” and was “inherently fraught with risk”. The Court takes into account that the claims in this class action refer to a loss of cultural identity. These cases undoubtedly pose a significant litigation risk to be assumed by Class counsel (Manuge v Canada, 2014 FC 341). The legal fees are intended to “encourage counsel to take on difficult and risky class action litigation” (Abdulrahim v Air France, 2011 ONSC 512). The parties’ commitment in the inauguration of the Settlement, is one of the reasons the result achieved was successful and were able to avoid delays and expensive costs associated with individual hearings by which to compensate class members.

It was undeniable that “bringing closure is critical” for the survivors of the Sixties Scoop. Without a settlement agreement, the risks include: (a) national certification order may not be granted; (b) a fiduciary duty may be found not to be owed, as in Ontario; (c) liability might not be established; (d) statutory limitation periods could bar many or all of the class’ claims; (e) an aggregate award of damages could be denied by the court forcing class members through lengthy and protracted individual assessment; (f) proven damages could be similar to or far less than the settlement amounts; (g) ordering reconciliation, commemorative or healing initiatives, of the nature the Foundation is tasked with, would have been outside the jurisdiction or purview of any court to order. The Court viewed the Settlement Agreement as fair, reasonable and in the best interests of those affected by it.

Brown v. Canada (AG), 2017 ONSC 251 [Sixties Scoop Class Action]

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

Motion granted for summary judgment of the certified common issue of the Sixties Scoop class action. Liability of the federal government was found in favour of the class members.

(This is the first of three consecutive Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch Blog posts regarding the Sixties Scoop Class Action judgements.)

The Court, and both parties, agree that the common issue should be summarily decided. Brown v. Canada (AG), 2010 ONSC 3095 was certified as a class proceeding. The certified common issue, which focused on the liability of Canada, was answered in favour of the class members. The class action has proceeded to the damages stage.

The Sixties Scoop happened and great harm was done. There is no dispute about the fact that thousands of Aboriginal children living on reserves in Ontario were apprehended and removed from their families by provincial child welfare authorities over the course of the class period and were placed in non-Aboriginal foster homes or adopted by non-Aboriginal parents. It was Patrick Johnson, the author of a 1983 research study on “Native Children and the Child Welfare System” that coined the name “Sixties Scoop.” He took this phrase from the words of a British Columbia child-protection worker who noted that provincial social workers “would literally scoop children from reserves on the slightest pretext.” There is uncontroverted evidence of the impact on the removed Aboriginal children. The loss of their Aboriginal identity left the children fundamentally disoriented, with a reduced ability to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. The issue before the Court was whether Canada can be found liable in law for the class members’ loss of Aboriginal identity after they were placed in non-Aboriginal foster and adoptive homes.

Canada entered into the Canada-Ontario Welfare Services Agreement (“the 1965 Agreement”) in December 1, 1965 to December 31, 1984 (19 years), and is at the core of the common issue. The focus of the common issue is the action or inaction of Canada (not Ontario) and only on the time-period after the Aboriginal children had been placed in non-Aboriginal foster or adoptive homes. Therefore, the common issue asks whether Canada had and breached any fiduciary or common law duties to take reasonable steps in the post-placement period to prevent the class members’ loss of Aboriginal identity.

The class definition includes the estimated 16,000 Aboriginal children who were removed from reserves in Ontario and placed in non-Aboriginal foster homes or adoptive homes. The stated goal of the 1965 Agreement was to “make available to the Indians in the province the full range of provincial welfare programs” and also reflected Canada’s concern that the extension of the provincial laws would respect and accommodate the special culture and traditions of the First Nations peoples living on the reserves, including their children. Ontario’s undertaking to extend the provincial welfare programs as set out in section 2(1) was made “subject to (2).” Sub-section 2(2) of the Agreement said “[n]o provincial welfare program shall be extended to any Indian Band in the Province unless that Band has been consulted by Canada or jointly by Canada and by Ontario and has signified its concurrence.” This section was intended to include explanations, discussions and accommodations. It was meant to be a genuinely meaningful provision.

No Indian Bands were ever consulted before provincial child welfare services were extended to the reserves. The Court found that by failing to consult the Indian Bands, Canada breached s 2(2) of the 1965 Agreement. Nothing in s 2(2) explicitly obliged Canada to actually undertake the consultations referred, however, the undertaking to do so can be implied from the language and context of the provision. A contractual term can be implied if it is a contractual term that must have been intended by the parties and is necessary or obvious in light of the particular circumstances of the agreement. If Canada had honoured its obligation to consult the Indian Bands under s 2(2) of the 1965 Agreement, the information about the child’s Aboriginal identity and culture and the available federal benefits would have been provided years sooner. Canada failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the loss of Aboriginal identity in the post-placement period by failing, at a minimum, to provide to both foster and adoptive parents the kind of information that was finally provided in 1980 and thereafter.

The Court found on the applicable law that Canada’s liability cannot be established under fiduciary law but can be established under the common law. In the Court’s view, s 2(2) and the obligation to consult created a common law duty of care and provided a basis in tort for the class members’ claims. The common law duty of care arose out of the fact that the 1965 Agreement is analogous to a third-party beneficiary agreement. Canada undertook the obligation to consult in order to benefit Indian Bands (and by extension, Indians living on the reserves, including children). The Indian Bands are not parties to the Agreement, but a tort duty can be imposed on Canada as a contracting party in these circumstances.