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Pressure mounts on B.C. to resolve class-action suit involving thousands of youth in foster care


As a lawsuit involving potentially tens of thousands of current and former kids in foster care languishes in the courts, it's gaining traction in the B.C. legislature, where pressure is mounting on the government to resolve the dispute.

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau described the government's handling of the matter as hypocritical on Thursday.

“This is an important moment for this government to demonstrate that it is serious about redressing the harms of the child welfare system, particularly for Indigenous children,” she said.

The class action alleges that the government failed to seek benefits, such as counselling, that kids in its care for the past 50 years were entitled to after they'd been victims of crime.

The province is challenging whether the class action should go ahead.

Karen Snowshoe is a lawyer, mediator and adjudicator. She also happens to be a potential plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, as she is a survivor of abuse while ion foster care.

“If I also could have had early counselling, which I didn’t have, it would have affected my life in a huge, huge way,” said Snowshoe on Thursday.

Snowshoe is an expert in conducting trauma-informed and culturally sensitive investigations.

She was a senior counsel with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirited People, and has resolved over 34,000 claims of abuse from residential school survivors across Canada.

She says the most important consideration when resolving situations involving survivors of trauma is timing — and an early resolution is key, when possible.

“The last thing you want to do is prolong processes that are going to cause more uncertainty for people, more pain, will add to the trauma that they’ve already experienced,” she said.

The representative plaintiff in this lawsuit was the survivor of sexual abuse as young as four years old. She says she’s now being re-traumatized.

“They’re causing incredible harm by not taking accountability and not taking adequate steps to address and resolve this issue, "she said.

The Liberal critic for children, family development and childcare, Karin Kirkpatrick, blasted the government on Thursday.

“Where other provinces have actually realized that they should be negotiating and settling with these young people, who have already been traumatized, it's unthinkable that this government is saying they don't think that this should go forward,” said Kirkpatrick from the legislature.

Alberta is one province were a similar lawsuit was settled, back in 2015. David Klein is the lawyer who acted for the children in that lawsuit. He says delays like the ones in the current action can jeopardize access to justice.

“Not just a delay in getting the money, but a delay in the ability to prove the case,” said Klein. “Documents get destroyed, witnesses are no longer available.”

The province has maintained it won’t comment on the case while it's before the courts. On Wednesday, Mitzi Dean, the Minister of Children and Family Development, wouldn’t discuss the lawsuit but defended her government’s actions to help children in care.

“Our ministry works every day in the best interests of children and youth in British Columbia,” said Dean.

Furstenau doesn’t agree. “The resources that are going to fighting this in court should be going to those children and youth who have survived the system,” she said.

The next legal battle in the case is set for this May, before the B.C. Court of Appeal. Top Stories

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