First Nations given max compensation for Ottawa’s child-welfare discrimination

2016 ruling said feds didn’t give same funding for on-reserve kids as was given to off-reserve kids

Indigenous children play in water-filled ditches in Attawapiskat, Ont. on April 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

First Nations children who were separated from their families by a chronically underfunded welfare system could receive more than $2 billion in compensation following an order from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

More than three years ago, the tribunal ruled there was clear discrimination by the federal government for kids living on reserves who needed help from child welfare agencies. Ottawa, the tribunal said, didn’t ensure services available to on-reserve children were funded at anywhere near the same levels as provincially funded services available off-reserve.

The tribunal reserved its decision on compensation at that time.

On Friday, the tribunal ruled that Ottawa’s discrimination was “wilful and reckless,” allowing it to award the maximum compensation allowed by legislation.

The award includes $40,000 for every child unnecessarily taken away from their families since Jan. 1, 2006 and another $40,000 for each of their parents or grandparents. Similar amounts will go to children abused in foster care, and children on- and off-reserve who were taken into care because they couldn’t access services there, including mental health supports, suicide prevention and basic medical devices.

“Overall, this is a good day for kids,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. “Overall, this is also a wake-up call for Canadians.”

The society was among the organizations that brought the original human rights complaint in 2007.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates the number of children impacted at around 54,000, bringing the minimum compensation bill to $2.1 billion. If all of their parents also get compensation, that number would double.

Indigenous children make up more than half of children in foster care in Canada, even though they represent just seven per cent of all children under the age of 15. In some provinces, as many as 90 per cent of kids in care are First Nations, Metis and Inuit.

Blackstock says these high numbers are the result of a system that refused to provide adequate funding to work with families on-reserve to prevent their kids from being placed in care.

The only time provincial and federal funding was at the same level was when a child was in care and the federal government picked up the provincially tab for foster care. That created an incentive to take kids from their families, advocates say.

The result was the mass separation of Indigenous children from their parents and placing them in a foster care system that Indigenous leaders say had more First Nations kids than at the height of the residential-schools era.

RELATED: Indigenous children still being treated unequally by provinces, says advocate

Since its first ruling in 2016, the tribunal has said 10 times that Ottawa failed to comply with its orders to fix the funding discrepancies. In 2018, the Liberals finally committed to funding prevention services at the needed levels. Despite that, Blackstock said Ottawa still refused to fund supports for those services such as a building to house programs.

Kevin Deagle, spokesman for Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, said Friday the government is reviewing the order that touches on “important and complex issues” the Liberals take seriously.

Mia Rabson, 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

Suspicious fire started in West Trail

A fire broke out on Tamarac Ave. Saturday morning, causing damage to two homes

RCMP, Regional fire rescue investigate string of suspicious fires in Marsh Creek

Arson is the likely cause of three fires lit near Marsh Creek Road near Frutivale on Friday

Lightning blamed for multiple fire starts across Kootenays

Southeast Fire Centre says ground crews, air support responding to fires near Revelstoke, Nakusp

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Health officials say indoor dining presents a higher risk

Raptors kneel for both American and Canadian anthems ahead of tipoff

Majority of players have substituted their names on the backs of their jerseys with racial and social justice messages

Wild’s Mathew Dumba makes anti-racism speech, kneels ahead of Blackhawks vs. Oilers

Matt Dumba, 26, took to center ice to speak on behalf of fellow members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance

Most Read