The Current

Ottawa's fight against compensation ruling 'another abuse' against First Nations kids, says Cindy Blackstock

The federal government has said that rather than complying with a Human Rights Tribunal ruling that would compensate First Nations children affected by the on-reserve child welfare system, it wants to settle a class-action lawsuit which it says would compensate more people.

Government says it wants to settle a child welfare class-action suit instead of complying with tribunal ruling

Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

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The Canadian government's efforts to quash an order to compensate First Nations children affected by the on-reserve child welfare system is "another abuse towards these kids that's unnecessary and preventable," according to Indigenous children's advocate Cindy Blackstock.

"Canada, by this delay and deferral technique, is really putting all of [these victims'] plans on hold," Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.

The government is appealing a ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering it to pay $40,000 dollars to each First Nations child affected by the on-reserve child welfare system since 2006. 

That ruling said that Canada's conduct "willfully and recklessly" failed to properly fund child and family services on-reserve, and instead separated children from their families and communities in favour of access to provincial services off-reserve.

The AFN estimates that 54,000 children and their parents or grandparents could be eligible for payments. 

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, with the support of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), filed the original human rights complaint that led to the ruling in 2007.

Blackstock said some victims were youth who grew up in foster care and now hoped to use that compensation money for university, or were parents who hoped to use the money to help care for their children with special needs.

In a separate but related case, the federal government announced Monday that it would seek to negotiate compensation through a class action lawsuit on child welfare filed in March.

That lawsuit is seeking $6 billion in compensation for First Nations children who were impacted by on-reserve child welfare system and who were denied healthcare.

The government is arguing that the Human Rights Tribunal ruling is actually too narrow, and would leave out other people who deserve compensation, while the class action would cover a broader group of people.

A senior federal official said the compensation ruling could cost the government up to $8 billion, according to Federal Court records.

Marc Miller is the new federal minister of Indigenous services. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"The Human Rights Tribunal order deals only with a 10-year period of compensation," said Marc Miller, the new minister of Indigenous services.

"There's a class of people that are left behind [by the ruling], particularly a group of people from 1991 to 2006." 

Blackstock dismissed the suggestion that one negated the other.

"There's nothing stopping them from doing both: from paying out the moneys for the compensation to these victims, and then doing whatever is necessary to compensate others," she said.

Justice Canada lawyers are set to argue against compensating First Nations children impacted by the on-reserve child welfare system. A human rights tribunal ordered the payout in September, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau caused a stir when he announced plans to block it. 2:15

When pressed to respond to Blackstock's comment, Miller said, "we don't feel that the individual compensation model necessarily respects the level of compensation that is due with respect to the class that we feel is affected."

"The Human Rights Tribunal can only award $40,000, and so it has," he continued.

"And we feel that there may be issues with the way that class is treated in different categories of compensation," Miller said, without specifying what those "categories of compensation" might look like.

The government stating its intention to move forward with settling the class action suit brought Blackstock no comfort.

"Canada has said a lot of things," she said.

"What I want them to do is act, because that's what makes changes in people's lives."

Written by Allie Jaynes with files from the Canadian Press and CBC News. Produced by Idella Sturino, Ben Jamieson and Mary-Catherine McIntosh.