‘Contrary to reconciliation’: Ottawa sends mixed message about deal to compensate First Nations children, pleads charges


OTTAWA — For Cindy Blackstock, the federal government’s decision to seek a judicial review of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision that rejected part of a First Nations child welfare agreement is another obstacle to reconciliation.

“It’s anti-reconciliation to me to, on the one hand, make representations that you’re going to do something and that you’ve learned from the past and that you’re not going to do injustice, and then… in your backyard violence, do something that is in direct opposition to that,” Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, told The Star.

Blackstock has been working to seek justice for those harmed by Canada’s on-reserve child welfare system since 2007, when the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) first filed a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging systemic discrimination against Indigenous children. and their families.

In 2016, the court ruled that Ottawa had discriminated against First Nations children on reserve by not providing the chronically underfunded system with the same resources as welfare services elsewhere in Canada. In 2019, the court of rights ordered the federal government to pay out $40,000 to thousands of affected children and their families.

Last year, the Federal Court dismissed Ottawa’s appeals of that decision, in which the federal government argued the court had overstepped its bounds in issuing its order.

But in January details were announced for a plan to end the long legal battle in the form of a “historic” $40 billion funding. Half of this amount would be used to compensate children and their caregivers, with the remaining $20 billion earmarked for longer-term improvements to First Nations child and family services.

There was a sense of cautious optimism at the time that the decision signaled the government’s intention to walk away from litigation. That failed, Blackstock said, now that Ottawa has sought a review of the court’s ruling that the settlement agreement is not entirely satisfactory.

“I was disappointed. I mean, it was the government that said they didn’t want to prosecute First Nations children anymore,” she said.

The judicial review stems from an October court ruling that found the $20 billion compensation package did not include First Nations children taken from their homes and placed with other members of the community. Also excluded are estates of deceased caregivers in cases where the caregiver was unable to make a claim for compensation prior to their death.

The court also said some parent and grandparent caregivers would receive less compensation than they are owed, as well as some children and their families who did not receive essential services because different levels of government could not s agree on who should pay for these services.

The court found that while the agreement – ​​known as the Final Settlement Agreement (FSA) – “substantially” complied with its previous orders, it could not fully satisfy them due to the omissions. He concluded that he lacked the “legal basis” to grant the amendments or changes requested by Ottawa and the AFN, as it would “exclude certain victims/survivors from compensation under court orders.”

But does this mean that efforts to compensate all victims have now stalled?

Not entirely, says Ottawa.

“Some of the money can still flow. We are working with the parties right now to plan how to channel that money, the compensation for the agreed classes that we have all agreed should be paid out as soon as possible. This work will continue,” Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu told The Star.

However, Hajdu said there was no “specific” timeline for when that would happen, in part because the FSA has yet to appear in federal court.

Hajdu and the government have argued that the October court ruling, which was issued without its full reasons, needs more clarity.

In its filing for review, the government said, among other reasons, it wanted the court to overturn the court’s decision “that it could not change its previous orders in light of the agreement”.

“It’s really about trying to understand in more detail what happens when a negotiated settlement of such historic proportions, led by First Nations people, is thrown out of court,” said Hajdu, who had told reporters a day earlier that “money” was not the reason for the call.

If it’s not about the money, “then pay it,” Blackstock said.

“If you look at their notice of candidacy… nowhere here does it say ‘more clarity’.”

Ottawa is not the only party seeking judicial review; On Wednesday, the AFN said it also plans to seek a review.

“We believe the judicial review will overturn the October CHRT (Canadian Human Rights Tribunal) decision and allow the $20 billion in compensation we negotiated to be paid out more quickly to more people. people. We will also continue to press Canada to consider all options to obtain compensation for children and families no matter what happens through these legal processes,” said the regional chief of the ‘AFN, Cindy Woodhouse, at The Star.

Woodhouse, the AFN’s chief negotiator with the government, said the organization is currently reviewing Ottawa’s appeal and the CHRT’s decision, with the goal of discussing the issue at a special chiefs assembly. next month.

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel


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