A high volume of phone and email inquiries from hundreds of Sixties Scoop survivors looking for information about the status of their claims in a class action settlement has resulted in an expansion of the claims administrator’s call centre.
However, a growing number of survivors say they are still feeling frustrated with the process and lack of communication.
Irene Peepeetch, a member of Zagime Anishinabek (Sakimay First Nation) in Saskatchewan, said she’s had unanswered emails and sparse information communicated over the phone.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Peepeetch.
“I know they only answer the phones and don’t have a lot of information, but it brings up a lot of negative feelings dealing with the past because you’re constantly pushed aside. It’s just another mountain to climb.”
Canada’s class action settlement agreement with Sixties Scoop survivors, signed in November 2017, set aside $750 million to compensate First Nations and Inuit children who were removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents between 1951 and 1991, and lost their cultural identities as a result.
To date, 14,482 of the 34,768 claims filed have been deemed eligible and 9,686 are still actively being assessed.
Collectiva, the claims administrator for the settlement, announced on Nov. 6 that the Ottawa-based firm Donna Cona Inc. is providing additional support to the call centre due to an influx of telephone and email inquiries, delaying other court-ordered duties such as application processing and payment distribution. A motion for additional support was granted by the Federal Court of Canada in September.
Michael Harris, a member of the Gitxsan Nation who lives in Vancouver, said he welcomes the additional support to move the process forward, but said his patience is thinning. He has not heard anything about the status of his claim.
“It’s not that I’m looking for the money. It’s the acceptance of the government taking responsibility for what happened to me,” he said.
The unanswered phone calls, he said, have re-traumatized many survivors.
“It re-hurts the people, or even adds to the pain that we’ve already got. [The government] was there to protect us. They didn’t, and now in the process of trying to heal us, they’re hurting us more by ignoring us,” he said.
Shannon Bernard, who lives in Toronto, called and emailed Collectiva in October to receive a status update on her claim. She received three calls back, most recently on Nov. 5, asking for her basic information, informing her that she’s not in the administrator’s database, and that a manager would return her call in two to three business days. She has yet to receive a call from a manager.
“It just sounds like there’s a bunch of kids working there,” said Bernard.
“I wasn’t stressed out about it until I called them and they called me back…. If something is sensitive as this, why do they just contract out to call centre people, people who have no tact? They just don’t have a clue.”
Doug Lennox of Klein Lawyers, who provides ongoing counsel to class members, said in a statement that they are committed to providing information and responding to claimants in a timely way.
“While the volume of claims inquiries can vary significantly from one week to another over the past few months, at this time, Donna Cona has reported that its team has answered all backlogged voicemail messages and responded to approximately 98 per cent of the calls received by their office,” he said.
“The claims administrator and Donna Cona will continue to work together to make sure claimant inquiries are responded to as quickly and efficiently as possible.”