Six Nations says Liberal fight against compensation for First Nations children a “step backwards”

OHSWEKEN — Six Nations Elected Council issued a statement Monday, reacting to the Liberal government’s announcement they were appealing a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that ordered Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to First Nations children and families who were victims of wilful underfunding while in the child-welfare system.

“After twelve years of costly legal action, the decision to appeal the CHRT decision sends a clear message that reconciliation is not a priority for the Liberal government. This action is, in fact, a step backward, creating further non-confidence in the ability to develop a renewed relationship with the Canadian government, based on basic human rights and decency,” says the statement issued by SNEC.

The case tracks all the way back to 2007, when advocate Cindy Blackstock and the First Nations and Family Caring Society filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the federal government for failing to provide equitable care to indigenous children in the child-welfare system. Nine years later, in 2016, the tribunal ruled the discrimination was wilful on Canada’s part. On September 5, 2019 CHRT ordered the maximum amount of compensation be paid to families and victims of the discrimination. Just one month later, on October 4, Trudeau’s Attorney General of Canada filed an appeal.

“The health and welfare of our children and family are at the heart of wellness for our community and this continued degradation by the Canadian government is not acceptable nor will it continued to be tolerated,” said SNEC.

Six Nations Elected Council is taking a hard line with the federal government to take immediate reconciliatory action including: immediately ceasing discriminatory funding and developing a plan in consultation with First Nations to end all inequalities that inhibit the healthy development of First Nations children.

They are also insisting Ottawa conduct an evaluation on programs providing service to First Nations children to identify ongoing discriminatory ideologies, policies, and practices, and work to end

them. And are seeking federal changes that would require all public servant employees to attend training that will support the

implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls To Action.

“This is beyond unacceptable. The government of Canada is once again preparing to fight First Nations children in court,” National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde said in a statement Friday.

“The government could have addressed the broken system and the funding inequalities before, but they didn’t. To appeal this CHRT ruling, which was meant to provide a measure of justice for First Nations children in care, is hurtful and unjust.”

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs issued its own statement.

“AMC is outraged by the actions of the Trudeau government today,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. “The decision today speaks to the lack of concern the federal government has for the children and families who have been harmed by a broken child-welfare system that’s been imposed on them.”

On Friday, Ottawa asked the Federal Court to review the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s September ruling, which found the federal government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on-reserve by not properly funding child and family services.

Off-reserve children, covered by provincial agencies, typically had more resources devoted to them.

The result was a mass removal of Indigenous children from their parents, for years, in a system Indigenous leaders say had more First Nations kids living in foster care than at the height of the residential-schools era.

The decision to challenge the ruling comes three days before the Oct. 7 deadline to file an appeal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he agrees with many of the tribunal’s findings, including that victims should be compensated, but that more time is needed for consultation than the tribunal’s Dec. 10 deadline allows.

“We need to have conversations with partners, we need to have conversations with communities, with leaders to make sure we’re getting that compensation right,” Trudeau told reporters, campaigning for re-election in Quebec.

“Government can’t be having those discussions because we’re in a writ period. Therefore we need time to be able to do that and get it right, because Canadians expect us to get it right and Indigenous Peoples expect us to get it right.”

More than three years ago, the tribunal ruled there was clear discrimination by the federal government against kids living on reserves who needed help from child welfare agencies. Ottawa, the tribunal said, didn’t ensure services available to on-reserve children were funded at anywhere near the same levels as provincially funded services available off-reserve.

The tribunal put off a decision on compensation at that time.

Its final ruling awards $40,000 for each child unnecessarily taken away from his or her family since Jan. 1, 2006 and another $40,000 for each of their parents or grandparents. Similar amounts should go to children abused in foster care, and children on- and off-reserve who were taken into care because they couldn’t access services there, including mental-health supports, suicide prevention and basic medical devices, the tribunal ruling states.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates the number of children involved at around 54,000, bringing the minimum compensation bill to $2.1 billion. If all of their parents also get compensation, that number would rise.

The final amount awarded could be as much as $8 billion, according to a Liberal source.

Indigenous children make up more than half of children in foster care in Canada, even though they are just seven per cent of all children under the age of 15. In some provinces, as many as 90 per cent of kids in care are First Nations, Metis or Inuit.

with CP files

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