A Canadian judge, rejecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s position, has set the stage for Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to Indigenous children who were removed from their homes and systematically given inadequate child welfare support on their reservations.
In dismissing Ottawa’s request for a judicial review of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s 2-year-old compensation order, Justice Paul Favel sided with the tribunal that its order was carefully crafted and within the scope of its mandate.
“No one can seriously doubt that First Nations people are amongst the most disadvantaged and marginalized members of Canadian society,” Favel wrote in his Sept. 29 decision. “The Tribunal was aware of this and reasonably attempted to remedy the discrimination while being attentive to the very different positions of the parties.”
Favel’s decision is subject to further appeals, but according to Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which filed the original human rights complaint more than 10 years ago, the decision was a “complete win” for kids, she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “Now the question becomes, will the federal government finally put down its sword and stop fighting First Nations children and treat them equally?”
Blackstock said she expected the government to appeal, based on its historical mistreatment of First Nations. The human rights complaint pointed to the systematic removal of Indigenous children from their homes and sending them to schools with the intent of wiping out their cultures and traditions — a system mirrored in the United States. Some such schools were still operating in the late 1990s.
At its core, the complaint to the tribunal argued that by underfunding child welfare programs on reservations for decades, Ottawa was practicing racial discrimination. Indigenous children are vastly overrepresented within Canada’s foster care system, making up slightly more than half of all children in the system.
Trudeau has said he is not opposed to compensation for the tribes’ children but that he is not comfortable that the tribunal’s plan is the correct one. His government had argued that the tribunal didn’t have the authority to order collective compensation and that birth parents and other relative caregivers should not be part of the compensation package.
The compensation plan does, however, cover non-abusive primary caregivers who were affected by the state’s actions. All told, First Nations advocates estimate that up to 54,000 people could be eligible for payments of $40,000.