Indigenous

House passes motion calling on Ottawa to pay First Nations child welfare compensation ordered by tribunal

The House of Commons passed a non-binding NDP motion Wednesday calling on the federal government to pay compensation to children and families affected by the on-reserve child welfare system, as ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in September.

Indigenous services minister says government has no plans to drop court challenge of compensation order

NDP MP Charlie Angus asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The House of Commons passed a non-binding NDP motion Wednesday calling on the federal government to pay compensation to children and families affected by the on-reserve child welfare system, as ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in September.

The federal government is seeking a judicial review before the Federal Court aimed at quashing the human rights tribunal compensation order.

"All parties have called on them to comply with the ruling," said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who tabled the motion.

"You can't comply with the ruling if you are trying to quash the ruling."

The tribunal told Ottawa to pay $40,000 each to First Nations children — along with some of their parents and grandparents — who were apprehended from their families and communities through the on-reserve child welfare system and in Yukon.

If the federal government proceeds with the judicial review, Angus said, it will be in defiance of Parliament — which could trigger committee hearings that would see Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and his officials hauled before MPs to answer questions.

"This is going to be a lose-lose for them if they think they can defy Parliament on this," said Angus.

The compensation order also included children who were denied health services, or who had to leave their communities to obtain those services.

The motion called on the federal government to "fully comply with all orders made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal as well as ensuring children and their families don't have to testify their trauma in court."

The motion also called for "a legislated funding plan for future years that will end the systemic shortfalls in First Nations child welfare."

No plans to drop challenge

Miller said that while the government has no plans to drop the court challenge, it is still committed to finding a way to compensate First Nations children affected by the on-reserve child welfare system.

"There are still issues that are of concern to the government [over tribunal compensation ruling]," said Miller. 

"But that doesn't prevent us from entering and continuing the discussions that are so needed and haven't happened up to now."

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the government has no plans to drop its court challenge of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal compensation order. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Federal lawyers have argued the tribunal order overreached its jurisdiction by crossing into class action law.

Miller said he has appointed Valerie Gideon, the assistant deputy minister for the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, to begin talks with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to develop proposals on how the compensation should be distributed.

"We will not stop in our resolve in making sure First Nations children are adequately and justly compensated," he said.

Talks continue on settling proposed class action lawsuit

The Caring Society and the AFN filed a human rights complaint in 2007 that led to a January 2016 ruling from the tribunal that found Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by under-funding on-reserve child welfare services. That ruling led to the compensation order issued in September.

The tribunal's compensation order required all parties to submit proposals on how to distribute the compensation.

The tribunal initially set Dec. 10 as the deadline to submit proposals on compensation mechanisms, but moved that date to Jan. 29, 2020, after the federal government sought and failed to obtain a stay of the tribunal order before the Federal Court. 

The federal government refused to engage in any discussions around developing compensation mechanisms until it lost its attempt to obtain a stay.

Miller also said the government would continue with settlement talks on a proposed class action lawsuit over on-reserve child welfare and denied health services that was filed in March.

The government hopes to use the class action negotiations to come up with a comprehensive settlement deal that could be struck outside of the tribunal process, but would still include the AFN and the Caring Society, Miller has said.

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