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Canadian federal government agrees US$40 billion settlement in compensation for indigenous families

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Posted: Saturday, January 15, 2022. 9:21 pm CST.

(Pic courtesy THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

By Aaron Humes: Canadian Television News (CTV) reports that an agreement in principle has been reached to compensate families of indigenous communities, known as First Nations, for harm caused by an underfunded child welfare system and establish long-term reform.

$20 billion of the settlement of the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history goes to children on reserve and in the Yukon who were unnecessarily removed from their homes between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022 as well as children who didn’t receive essential public services between April 1, 1991 and December 11, 2007, while the other half goes to reform of the First Nations Child and Family Services Program, to be spread out over five years.

Approximately $20 billion will support young First Nations adults transitioning out of the child welfare system, as well as bolster prevention mechanisms to keep children at home, in their communities – work that’s expected to start in April, 2022.

The agreement must be approved by the Federal Court and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT), which have both ruled that the federal government discriminated against First Nations children.

“It’s an acknowledgment of the extreme harms and grief that too many families continue to live with each and every day,” Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said in a press conference.

If green-lighted, the agreement would put an end to a years-long legal battle that has splintered successive governments’ relationship with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

The case was filed in 2007 by the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society charging discrimination against First Nations children on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, by providing inequitable funding of child welfare services on reserve. The tribunal ruled in their favour in 2016. Three years later the CHRT ordered the government to pay $40,000 to every First Nations child, parent, and/or grandparent (if the primary caregiver) affected by the underfunded First Nations Child and Family Services since 2006. Last September the Federal Court dismissed Ottawa’s appeals of the CHRT compensation ruling days before the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, following which settlement talks began.

Cindy Woodhouse, the AFN regional chief for Manitoba, said more than 200,000 children and families are impacted by the compensation agreement.

“This wasn’t and isn’t about parenting, it’s in fact about poverty, and First Nations children being removed from their families and communities instead of being provided help with food, clothing, or shelter,” she said.

The government confirmed that $40,000 – the maximum allowed under the CHRT– is the baseline amount to be delivered to those affected. Some may receive more based on the level of harm inflicted.

In a subsequent press conference, Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, reminded Canadians the agreement is non-binding and that continued pressure on the government to act is necessary.

“Public pressure, litigation, and all of us paying attention has made a world of a difference. But these are simply words on paper. It is not time to look away, and it’s not time for any of us to exhale,” she said.

The government also noted they intend to drop their appeal of the CHRT rulings.

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