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Roughly 10,000 expected to join dental class action against Indigenous Services Canada

Yorkton, Sask. -

A potential future class action lawsuit is shedding more light on the impacts of the dentistry work performed under the former Indian Affairs Canada between the 1960s and 1980s.

The suit is currently in its early stages but is being facilitated by the Band Members of the Advocacy Alliance Association of Canada (BMAAAC).

It is expected to allege substandard and harmful dental work which took place in the 30 to 40-year period by Indian Affairs, the former Indigenous Services Canada linked to a “travelling dentist,” who went from community to community practicing on youth who did not provide consent. Based on stories heard by BMAAAC president and founder Rob Louie, the impacts are vast.

“It certainly was disheartening to hear some of the stories being told by elderly people now, because [they] were young children back in the 1960s and 70s. So not only did they go through residential schools, not only do they go through, you know, the 60s scoop and the abuse that went along with it. Now they're dealing with some of their self-esteem issues,” he told CTV News on Wednesday.

“Some of these stories that we've heard include having teeth removed without any freezing and some of the harms that went around that followed folks right into adulthood and some of the members that we've talked to, they have very poor teeth and that is a result of not wanting to go to a dentist after their experience as a child,” Louie said.

CTV News released an exclusive story on the potential class action on April 5.

Indigenous Services Canada responded to an April 4 request for a statement from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) but did not receive a response until one week later, April 11.

“We cannot comment about potential or proposed legal actions which have not been filed,” the statement read.

“The Government of Canada remains committed to working with Indigenous partners to advance reconciliation, dismantle a colonial legacy of racism, broken promises and denial of rights and build renewed and transformed relationships together,” the statement also read.

ISC itself has commissioned a project with the Saskatchewan-based organization, the Indigenous Dental Association of Canada (IDAC). That’s according to founder Dr. Sheri McKinstry, who launched the organization in 2021.

McKinstry told CTV News on Wednesday that during findings of potential unmarked graves near former residential schools, that she was impacted to create the project which looks at survivors of the trauma and collects their testimonies throughout the province.

“When we started IDAC I had so many people come forward and share their absolutely horrible experiences. And even when we were preparing IDAC, the physical location after we had the furniture in we asked some elders to come in and smudge our areas and then do a ceremony so that we can do it all in a good way,” she explained.

“They're not necessarily old stories [IDAC hears]. These are even newer stories. Where just absolute horrible things have been done and a lot of it has to do with consent. A lot of it has to do with, unfortunately, I have to say, financial motivation.”

McKinstry’s journey through the project isn’t one she takes lightly. The advocate said she too experienced traumatic impacts when going through ISC dentists when she was a child.

“It wasn't until I became a dentist actually, to be honest with you, that I realized that had been done to me and I didn't even realize that was a form of abuse that was done to me in the chair,” she said.

“We definitely need a change in dentistry. We need to do it in a good way. But we also need to listen to the voices that need to be heard. And so this is where that project is coming from, I think those that are speaking out really need to be supported in this because the voices need to be heard.”

McKinstry said in her eyes, there is hope for the future in the way of potential ceremonies and creating ceremony-friendly dentistry, to ease the traumas of the past for Indigenous clients. It’s something she has pushed for hoping to one day have it in her own dentist’s office. The IDAC facility in Saskatoon is smudge-friendly, according to McKinstry and it has helped elders share their stories on their own healing paths.

The class action lawsuit expects to reach around 10,000 Indigenous members throughout the province, according to early estimations by Louie.

He said currently those in the Metis community and the Inuit population may not be eligible to join the suit against ISC.

Louie said the Calgary-based law firm DD West will be taking the case, with hopes of filing the suit this fall.

When it comes to the “travelling dentist,” Louie said there are conflicting reports that the individual may or may not still be alive, but would be in his “80s or 90s” if he is.

Louie added that he plans to travel across the province to meet with First Nations interested in joining the class action, but those interested can contact BMAAC directly at Top Stories

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