Feds fight rul­ing on $2 bil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion for fail­ures in First Na­tions child ser­vices

Tri­bunal had or­dered $2 bil­lion pay­out to com­pen­sate for mass breakups of fam­i­lies

The Peterborough Examiner - - FRONT PAGE - TERESA WRIGHT

OT­TAWA — 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 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.”

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.

The dam­ages were also or­dered 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.

Trudeau would say 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 ju­di­cial-stay 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.

NATHAN DENETTE THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

In­dige­nous chil­dren play in wa­ter-filled ditches in At­tawapiskat, Ont. In Septem­ber, the Cana­dian Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal awarded more than $2 bil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion to First Na­tions kids who were ripped away from their fam­i­lies.

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