PM's claim to support Indigenous compensation 'out of step' with reality: Blackstock
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's claim to support Indigenous compensation is “out of step” with his legal submission to block it, according to a leading First Nations children’s advocate.
The federal government is fighting a $2 billion compensation ruling over failures in First Nations child services.
Today, a federal court is holding a case conference to look at the government’s request for a judicial review.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, told CTV’s Your Morning that Trudeau and opposition leader Andrew Scheer’s remarks that they would support compensation are “entirely out of step with their legal submissions that said they didn’t want to pay anything.”
Blackstock highlighted the ongoing legal battle between the federal government and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) which has ordered compensation for Indigenous families over discrimination of child welfare funding.
The federal government has been ordered to reimburse tens of thousands of First Nations children who were harmed by or denied essential family services. The tribunal ruled that Canada must reimburse each of the more than 50,000 children apprehended or denied welfare services with $40,000, meaning the total compensation will likely exceed $2 billion.
The government is appealing the damage award, saying the election made it impossible to organize compensation by the Dec. 10 deadline.
“Today is the prime minister’s opportunity to change those legal submissions so that they’re not seeking to quash the order, but they’re seeking to support justice for those kids,” Blackstock said.
Hours after the appeal was filed last month, Trudeau explained his government’s decision during a campaign stop in Saint-Anaclet-de-Lessard, Que. He repeatedly said they agree with the tribunal’s finding that individuals who were harmed deserve to be compensated.
“We recognize the harm that’s been done and we fully accept the need for compensation,” he said.
“But the question is how to do that? 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.”
The CHRT stated in its initial ruling, released Sept. 6., that "Canada's conduct was wilful and reckless resulting in what we have referred to as a worst-case scenario under our Act."
"No amount of compensation can ever recover what you have lost, the scars that are left on your souls or the suffering that you have gone through as a result of racism, colonial practices and discrimination," the panel wrote in its decision.
“That means that they knew what they were doing, the under-funding was creating a very high risk for these children to be unnecessarily separated from their families,” Blackstock said.
“So what the kids lost was really their childhoods growing up with family and in some cases the tribunal even links it to deaths. So that’s what the harm was.”
The application for judicial review asks that the tribunal's decision be set aside and the claim for monetary compensation be dismissed. It also asks for the matter to be referred to the tribunal for a “determination in accordance with the directions of this Court.”
Earlier this month, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde shared his "deep disappointment" over the federal government’s decision to appeal the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling.
“In terms of what children and families want to do with this money, I’ve heard from youth in care who want to pay to go to university,” Blackstock said.
“We’ve had youth who are terminally ill and they want to leave something for their families, see some day of happiness.
“We’re coming up on the holiday season and for some of these families it was their dream to just finally give their kids a good Christmas. But all of that is put on hold while the federal government fights this.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who approves of the review, agreed that some children and families should be compensated.
"I believe that children who have been mistreated or families that have suffered because of policies of the federal government should absolutely be compensated," Scheer said during a campaign stop in Fredericton.
Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan defended the decision to appeal in an emailed statement to CTV News.
“The recent ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is significant and raises important questions and considerations such as who is to be compensated and the role of the Tribunal,” he wrote.
“In order to give us both clarity on the ruling and time to have these conversations with our partners, which are not possible during an election, we are seeking a judicial review and stay.”
--- With files from CTV News’ Rachel Gilmore and Sarah Turnbull and The Canadian Press