Indigenous children play in water-filled ditches in Attawapiskat, Ont. on April 19, 2016. Federal lawyers will be in court later this morning to argue the government’s appeal of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that ordered Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to First Nations children and their families. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

First Nations child welfare case adjourns, judge reserves decision

Ottawa wants to compensate First Nations families through a settlement in a separate class-action lawsuit

Advocates fighting for First Nations children and families ripped apart by an underfunded child welfare system say the Trudeau government should stop challenging a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order that awarded money to victims.

Lawyers on Tuesday wrapped up arguments in a Federal Court case challenging the tribunal’s ruling that Ottawa pay $40,000 to every First Nations child who was inappropriately taken away from their parents after 2006.

The ruling said the federal government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on-reserve by not properly funding child and family services. As a result, children were sent away from their homes, families and reserves.

Had they lived off-reserve, the children would be covered by better-funded provincial systems.

The Liberal government, which is appealing the tribunal’s decision, had its lawyers ask the Federal Court to stay the tribunal’s order that imposed a Dec. 10 deadline for the government to come up with a plan on how it would provide payment to victims.

Justice Department lawyer Robert Frater said Canada agrees its actions were discriminatory and that the government will compensate children and their families.

But Frater called the human rights tribunal’s order an “unnecessarily invasive piece of surgery by the wrong doctors.”

READ MORE: More First Nations kids deserve child-welfare compensation, federal lawyers argue

Ottawa instead wants to compensate First Nations families through a settlement in a separate but related class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year seeking $6 billion in damages for Indigenous children.

Federal Court Justice Paul Favel is reserving judgment, but said he will deliver a decision as soon as possible in a nod to the looming Dec. 10 deadline.

The government wants to negotiate a settlement that will cover all victims going back to 1991, and argued in court that the tribunal decision’s compensation plan doesn’t allow for this because its order only includes victims and their families since 2006.

Lawyers for the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which filed the original human-rights complaint in 2007, and other parties in the case said nothing stops the government from paying damages awarded by the human-rights tribunal while also extending compensation to other victims.

Cindy Blackstock, the society’s executive director, said the government is “shopping around for a court where they can do what they want” by trying to provide compensation through the class-action lawsuit instead of following the tribunal’s order.

“We’re in the litigation process at the tribunal on compensation because Canada wanted us to go there. We wanted to mediate, but Canada said, ‘No, we have to litigate this at the tribunal.’ So they got what they wanted, which is an order,” Blackstock told reporters outside the courtroom Tuesday.

“Now they don’t like the order and they want it out of the way,” she said, adding, “it feels like they’re just trying to find a place that agrees with them.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who took in the court proceedings Tuesday, said he will continue to push Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop taking Indigenous children to court.

“The government should drop the appeal, it should follow the tribunal decision. If there are other cases and other discrimination that need to be addressed, address that as well.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nelson skateboarders charged with assaulting Trail police officer

Incident happened at the skate park in Trail

Flooding: Why the RDCK ordered hundreds of properties evacuated

All evacuation orders have now been rescinded

City of Rossland introduces new fees for some permits and services

City adopted bylaw to introduce the fees on June 1

‘Not technically feasible’: Grand Forks volunteers stack sandbags to fill in damaged dike

Residents hoped governments would do emergency repairs, but learned Sunday that it was up to them

Boundary freshet 2020: At least 189 properties ordered to evacuate as of June 1

Real-time gauges on the West Kettle, Kettle and Granby rivers suggested Monday water near peak

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

B.C.’s Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics goes virtual

The annual event partnering RCMP with Special Olympians is dramatically altered by COVID-19

Bateman program encourages people to sketch outside, connect with nature

#MyNatureSketch initiative encourages Canadians to become ‘bright-eyed three year olds’

Be cautious expanding COVID-19 bubble, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells B.C.

Senior homes stay off-limits as schools, businesses reopen

Most Read