The federal government is appealing a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling ordering Ottawa to pay $2 billion in compensation to First Nations children and their families who were separated by a chronically underfunded child-welfare system.
The government on Friday officially asked the Federal Court to review of the tribunal’s September ruling.
In that decision, the tribunal said the federal government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on-reserve by not properly funding child and family services.
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.
In a statement, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said the government agrees with many of the tribunal’s findings, including the recognition of discrimination and mistreatment, as well as that compensation “should be part of the healing process for those who have experienced significant wrongs.”
But the ruling also “raises important questions and considerations, such as who is to be compensated and the role of the tribunal,” O’Regan said in his statement.
“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,” he said.
“As I’ve said before, we believe that collaboration, rather than litigation, is the best way to right historical wrongs and advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and that the government of Canada has committed to engaging in discussions around compensation for the benefit of those individuals impacted.”
NDP condemns decision
The tribunal awarded the maximum damages it can — $40,000 — for each child taken away for lack of proper services or who was later returned to his or family, for each parent or grandparent who had a child taken, for each child who experienced abuse in foster care, and for each child who was taken into foster care because proper medical supports were not made available to their families.
The decision to challenge the ruling comes three days before the Oct. 7 deadline to file an appeal.
When asked earlier this week if a legal challenge of the tribunal’s decision was planned, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau remained vague, saying only that he remained committed to continue to work with Indigenous peoples on reconciliation, economic empowerment and partnerships that move toward self-government.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh condemned the government’s decision, 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.