Politics

Scheer says he'd seek 'judicial review' of First Nation child welfare compensation

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer today called for a 'judicial review' of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision to compensate First Nations children harmed by the on-reserve child welfare system.

Deadline to appeal passes Oct. 7 — two weeks before election day

If he was prime minister, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he would seek a judicial review of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision on First Nations child welfare compensation. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer today called for a "judicial review" of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision to compensate First Nations children harmed by the on-reserve child welfare system.

The tribunal ordered the federal government on Sept. 6 to pay $40,000 — the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act — to each child apprehended from homes and communities under the on-reserve child welfare system.

The ruling also directed Ottawa to compensate some of the parents and grandparents of children who were apprehended.

Scheer said the decision could leave the federal government on the hook for billions of dollars in compensation.

"This is a far-reaching decision that has major impacts on multiple levels of government," Scheer said.

"It would be appropriate to have a judicial review."

A party spokesman later clarified Scheer's statement by saying the Conservative leader would appeal the decision if he were prime minister right now. The deadline for the federal government to appeal is Monday — two weeks before election day.

Scheer has not said specifically what a Conservative government would do with this file if it forms government after Oct. 21.

Scheer urged to reconsider

"It has a chilling effect when a leader of any party makes a comment such as this," said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a lawyer and former child and youth advocate for British Columbia, in reaction to Scheer.

"We're dealing with a very traumatized group of young Canadians who are seeking support ... So making off-the-cuff comments about their rights and their situation can be very harmful."

Turpel-Lafond is urging Scheer to speak to experts in the Indigenous child welfare field carefully and reconsider his position. 

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, called Scheer's remarks "disappointing" and said she's also unimpressed with the Liberal government.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau did not give a direct answer on Thursday when asked what a re-elected Liberal government would do.

Will move forward, says Trudeau

"From the Sixties Scoop to the relocations, to the tuberculosis among the Inuit, we have always moved forward in a responsible way to compensate, to support people, and we will continue to do that as we move forward," Trudeau said.

"We're going to continue to work with Indigenous communities, work with Indigenous leaders, to make sure that there is proper compensation."

Cindy Blackstock heads the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which filed the initial human rights complaint with the Assembly of First Nations in 2007 to end the inequities faced by Indigenous youth in the on-reserve child welfare system. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan said shortly after the decision came down that his department would need to review it before deciding what to do next.

Blackstock, who is at the forefront of the drive to end discrimination against First Nation children, said an appeal of the decision would perpetuate "racial discrimination of the worst kind."

"It is the federal government's discriminatory conduct that needs review and reform — not the legal decision that flagged the problem and ordered the discrimination to stop," she said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May have both said they would offer compensation at the level ordered by the tribunal.

"Every party leader must commit to honouring this ruling made by Canada's own human rights tribunal," Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, wrote in a tweet.

"This is about supporting First Nations children and families and respecting human rights. It is unconscionable that anyone would oppose this."

The ruling covers all children in the care of the on-reserve child welfare system at any point from Jan.1, 2006, to a date to be determined by the tribunal.

Some estimates place the number of potentially affected children at about 50,000, with the largest numbers in the Prairies and British Columbia. The ruling also covers First Nation children in the Yukon territory.

Ballot box issue

Turpel-Lafond said she wants whichever party that forms the next government to work out a new path for First Nation children and families.

"The recognition that they deserve respect and support is long overdue," Turpel-Laford said.

"The time for fighting First Nation children and families is over."

The tribunal ordered Ottawa to enter discussions with the First Nations Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations — which filed the initial human rights complaint in 2007 — to determine the best independent process to distribute the compensation and decide who qualifies.

It gave the parties until Dec. 10 to come to the tribunal with proposals.

Blackstock said voters should consider where all political parties stand on the ruling when they head to the ballot box, and decide whether they want a government that supports compensating First Nation children or continuing the litigation against them.

"I find Canadians really are wanting to see First Nation children being treated fairly and justly," Blackstock said.

"I think they're way out in front of the political parties in many ways on this."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.

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