Feds have until Friday to appeal ruling to compensate Indigenous children
OTTAWA -- The deadline is fast approaching for the federal government to decide whether it will appeal a decision by the Federal Court to uphold two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders requiring Ottawa to pay out billions of dollars to Indigenous children.
Last month, Federal Court Justice Paul Favel decided that the Liberals had failed to demonstrate that the tribunal’s decision to compel the government to compensate each First Nations child unnecessarily taken into the state child-welfare system was unreasonable.
The Oct. 29 appeal deadline comes at a time when the Liberals face pressure to signal specific actions to fulfill their promise of Indigenous reconciliation – something they recommitted to during the federal election campaign – following the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools.
Indigenous advocates continue to argue that taking First Nations children to court isn’t congruent with true reconciliation.
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who was joined by a St. Anne’s residential school survivor during a press conference on Monday, said the government has four days left to “do the right thing.”
“The prime minister needs to take responsibility for this. He needs to sit down with the litigants, he needs to sit down with Cindy Blackstock, and the [Assembly of First Nations], he needs to admit that the harms are not historic, they are ongoing. He needs to drop the ongoing appeal against the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that his government has just filed, he needs to agree to stop the federal court hearings,” he said.
“He has filed 20 legal actions against Indigenous children and lost every single one of them. He needs to say that he will accept the human rights tribunal ruling that found them guilty of willful and reckless discrimination and pay the compensation.”
In September 2019, the tribunal ordered Ottawa to pay $40,000, the maximum the tribunal can award, to each First Nations child removed from their home after 2006, as well as to their parents, because of the discrimination.
It was estimated that around 54,000 children and their parents could be eligible to receive compensation, which would likely cost the federal government more than $2 billion.
The second legal battle stems from a separate ruling in 2020 that expanded the scope of Jordan's Principle, which is a rule stating when there is jurisdictional disagreement over what level of government should provide a service to First Nations children, Ottawa takes on the responsibility and worries about the costs second.
The tribunal ruled the principle should apply to children who are members of a First Nation even though they don't have status under the Indian Act as well as kids whose parents are eligible for status when they are not.
Mushkegowuk Council Deputy Grand Chief Rebecca Friday, who was also present at the press conference, said the child-welfare system is a continuation of the abuse faced at residential schools and during the ‘60s Scoop.
“You’re still taking my children away from their homes. They’re being a commodity… Who is getting rich from my people, who is getting rich from my children, my grandkids, who's going to take care of them? I am,” she said.
Friday added that the government has to be clear about what reconciliation looks like to them.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for the Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said the government will communicate its decision “in due course.”
“Canada remains committed to compensating First Nations children who were removed from their families and communities and to continue implementing significant reform of the First Nation Child and Family Services Program, recognizing that class actions have been filed, including by the Assembly of First Nations and Moushoom,” said Adrienne Vaupshas.
With files from The Canadian Press.