Politics

Commons passes motion urging feds to drop court actions involving First Nations kids

MPs from all parties have joined New Democrats in calling on the federal government to drop its legal battles against a pair of rulings involving First Nations children.

Vote passes 271-0, but Liberal cabinet, some backbenchers abstain

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, June 7, to talk about his motion before the vote. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

MPs from all parties have joined New Democrats in calling on the federal government to drop its legal battles against a pair of rulings involving First Nations children. 

In a motion put forward by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, parliamentarians from all five parties teamed up Monday to demand that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's minority government abandon the judicial reviews to be heard in Federal Court next week. 

The motion, which expresses the view of the House of Commons but is legally non-binding, passed 271-0, with Liberal cabinet members and some of their backbencher colleagues abstaining from the vote. 

The motion also asks the government for faster implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, trauma resources for survivors, a progress report to be tabled in 10 days and a sit-down with a group representing survivors from St. Anne's, a former residential school in Fort Albany, Ont., over their search for justice. 

The motion came in response to last month's news that ground-penetrating radar detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Next Monday, the federal government is poised to argue against Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings regarding compensation for First Nations children in foster care and the expansion of Jordan's Principle to children who live off reserves. 

The first ruling ordered Ottawa to pay $40,000 each to some 50,000 First Nations children separated from their families by a chronically underfunded child welfare system, as well as to each of their parents or grandparents. 

The second widened the applicability of Jordan's Principle, a rule stating that when governments disagree about who's responsible for providing services to First Nations children, they must help a child in need first and argue over the bills later. 

'Deeply concerned'

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, demanded that Ottawa "stop further pain against children and do the right thing." 

He said in an interview that Monday's motion expresses the will of Canadians and puts more pressure on the government to change its position. Authorities should apply the same effort and resources to implementing the tribunal decision that they currently apply to fighting it, he said.

In a statement, Bellegarde added he was "deeply concerned" about the Liberal abstentions that represent a "missed opportunity." 

Singh said before the vote the Liberal government should "stop fighting Indigenous kids in court" and "truly walk the path of reconciliation." 

'They should be championing this motion': Blackstock

Trudeau suggested last week that compensation should be proportional to the trauma. 

"Should someone who went to a day school for a few months or a year be compensated to the exact same amount as someone who was in a traumatic situation over many, many years, where they were taken from their families and had a very, very different experience?"' he asked last Monday. 

"Right now, the human rights tribunal says everyone should get exactly the same amount. We don't know that that's entirely fair." 

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, cheered the successful motion but said it was "too bad" that Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett declined to vote.

"They should be championing this motion," Blackstock said in a Twitter post. 

She also repeated her years-long call for adequate child welfare funding and a fully implemented Jordan's Principle — named in memory of a five-year-old boy who died in hospital in 2005 as the federal and provincial governments disputed who was financially responsible for his care.

Miller has said previously the federal government would implement the orders from the tribunal but it was seeking a judicial review over its jurisdiction.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse.

The number is 1-866-925-4419.

With files from The Canadian Press' Kelly Geraldine Malone

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