Feds fight ruling on compensation for failures in First Nations child services

‘This is beyond unacceptable,’ said National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde

First Nations chiefs are expressing outrage and disappointment at the federal government’s decision to appeal a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling ordering Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to First Nations children and their families separated by a chronically underfunded child-welfare system.

“This is beyond unacceptable. The government of Canada is once again preparing to fight First Nations children in court,” National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde said in a statement Friday.

“The government could have addressed the broken system and the funding inequalities before, but they didn’t. To appeal this CHRT ruling, which was meant to provide a measure of justice for First Nations children in care, is hurtful and unjust.”

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs issued its own statement.

“AMC is outraged by the actions of the Trudeau government today,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. “The decision today speaks to the lack of concern the federal government has for the children and families who have been harmed by a broken child-welfare system that’s been imposed on them.”

On Friday, Ottawa asked the Federal Court to review the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s September ruling, which found the federal government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on-reserve by not properly funding child and family services.

Off-reserve children, covered by provincial agencies, typically had more resources devoted to them.

The result was a mass removal of Indigenous children from their parents, for years, in a system Indigenous leaders say had more First Nations kids living in foster care than at the height of the residential-schools era.

The decision to challenge the ruling comes three days before the Oct. 7 deadline to file an appeal.

ALSO READ: Journalists launch ‘Spotlight: Child Welfare’ series into B.C.’s foster system

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he agrees with many of the tribunal’s findings, including that victims should be compensated, but that more time is needed for consultation than the tribunal’s Dec. 10 deadline allows.

“We need to have conversations with partners, we need to have conversations with communities, with leaders to make sure we’re getting that compensation right,” Trudeau told reporters, campaigning for re-election in Quebec.

“Government can’t be having those discussions because we’re in a writ period. Therefore we need time to be able to do that and get it right, because Canadians expect us to get it right and Indigenous Peoples expect us to get it right.”

More than three years ago, the tribunal ruled there was clear discrimination by the federal government against kids living on reserves who needed help from child welfare agencies. Ottawa, the tribunal said, didn’t ensure services available to on-reserve children were funded at anywhere near the same levels as provincially funded services available off-reserve.

The tribunal put off a decision on compensation at that time.

Its final ruling awards $40,000 for each child unnecessarily taken away from his or her family since Jan. 1, 2006 and another $40,000 for each of their parents or grandparents. Similar amounts should go to children abused in foster care, and children on- and off-reserve who were taken into care because they couldn’t access services there, including mental-health supports, suicide prevention and basic medical devices, the tribunal ruling states.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates the number of children involved at around 54,000, bringing the minimum compensation bill to $2.1 billion. If all of their parents also get compensation, that number would rise.

The final amount awarded could be as much as $8 billion, according to a Liberal source.

Indigenous children make up more than half of children in foster care in Canada, even though they are just seven per cent of all children under the age of 15. In some provinces, as many as 90 per cent of kids in care are First Nations, Metis or Inuit.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan echoed Trudeau’s comments Friday, stressing repeatedly that he agrees with the overall finding of the need for compensation, but that the tribunal’s Dec. 10 deadline to come up with a compensation plan is not enough time to get it right.

“This is an extremely specific and prescriptive ruling,” he said in a telephone interview from Newfoundland.

“Look, I fully understand the political ramifications of this. And I’m cognizant of the signal it sends. But I can only reiterate that this is not, in fact, what we want to do. We are committed to meaningful collaboration and we have proven it time and again.”

When asked whether any alternative legal avenues were explored to buy more time rather than appealing the decision, O’Regan said this was “the only way.” He also said the judicial review is not being sought because of the costs involved, but to ensure the money will compensate victims and families in the right way.

“In identifying survivors, how do we go about that in a way that is not re-traumatizing for these people? So that process, and how we go about that, is going to be extremely important and it is not something that we can arrive at by Dec. 10. That’s simply not possible.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh condemned the government’s legal challenge of the ruling, accusing Trudeau of failing to treat Indigenous children equitably.

“It shows a complete departure from the values that Mr. Trudeau talked about in public. It is clear there are two different Trudeaus: one that talks about the importance of Indigenous relationships, and the other that takes Indigenous kids to court,” Singh said in Saskatoon.

“This is a moral failure, this is unjust, this is continuing an injustice.”

He said a New Democratic government would accept the tribunal’s decision and provide equal financial compensation for all First Nations children.

“It’s something that long has been known that Indigenous kids do not get equal funding, and as a result of that lack of equal funding, Indigenous kids have died in custody,” he said.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Volunteer organization provides first aid and rescue services

Main fundraiser, the Winter Extreme Ski and Board Swap, takes place at Abbotsford Exhibition Park Nov. 16 and 17

BREAKING: Vehicle fire on Highway 1 between Chilliwack and Abbotsford

One westbound lane blocked after 11:30 a.m. on Friday leading to traffic delays

Fraser Cascade students vape more often than average B.C. youth

Fraser Health’s Dr. Alexandra Choi shared her concerns around vaping, and what Kent could do about it

UFV Town and Gown dinner raises more than $245,000

Of the total raised, $100,000 will go toward a new Peace and Reconciliation Centre

UPDATED: Brother of Chilliwack homicide victim killed in Surrey

Andrew Baldwin killed on Nov. 11, three weeks after Keith Baldwin shot in downtown Chilliwack

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

Maddison Yetman had been looking forward to voting in her first federal election since junior high school

VIDEO: Giants toppled by visiting Hurricanes

Sunday afternoon play at Langley Events Centre saw a team from Lethbridge defeat Vancouver, 6-0

Security camera records hatchet attack on Langley store owner

Target escaped uninjured, but was ‘upset’ by incident

PHOTOS: Snoozing seal pup captures attention at White Rock Pier

Dozens of seals spent the day at White Rock’s iconic structure

VIDEO: Collision in Surrey breaks axle off SUV

Two people were reportedly sent to hospital

Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

Lily Copeland says she felt intimidated and trapped by Williams

Cleanup in the works after tanker truck fire leads to oil spill in B.C.’s Peace region

The province said the majority of the spilled oil likely burned away in the fire.

BC VIEWS: Action needed on healthcare workplace violence

While we’ve been talking about it, the number of B.C. victims has only grown

Most Read