Canada signs $20 billion compensation deal for First Nations child welfare – Stettler Independent

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The federal government has signed a $20 billion final settlement agreement to compensate First Nations children and families harmed by chronic underfunding of on-reserve child welfare, which Indigenous Services Canada declared Monday to be the largest such agreement in Canadian history.

“First Nations children deserve to be surrounded by love and to live free from discriminatory government policies,” said Cindy Woodhouse, Manitoba Regional Chief at the Assembly of First Nations, on Monday.

“And after three decades of advocacy and months of negotiations, I am proud to say on behalf of the AFN that we have reached another historic milestone for our children and their families.

The settlement, reached between Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and plaintiffs in two class action lawsuits, also takes into account the federal government’s narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle. It was designed to ensure that jurisdictional disputes over payment for services to First Nations children do not interfere with the delivery of those services.

“The parties have agreed to a compensation claims settlement plan to recognize the families and individuals who have suffered tremendously from discriminatory and systemically racist child protection practices,” the Services Minister said. Aboriginal people, Patty Hajdu, in an interview.

The federal government announced in January that it had reached tentative agreements, which include $20 billion for compensation and an additional $20 billion to reform the First Nations child welfare system over five years. The full $40 billion was reserved in the 2021 budget update.

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations first filed a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2007, alleging that chronic underfunding of child welfare services on reserve discriminated against the services provided by provincial governments to children. in other communities.

Ottawa pays for child welfare on reserves, but only matches provincial spending if children are placed in foster care. The result is far more child apprehensions and family breakdowns than necessary, and fewer services and supports to help families through a crisis.

2016 Census data shows that less than 8% of Canadian children under 15 are Indigenous, yet Indigenous youth make up more than half of children under 15 in foster care.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2016 that the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children. The Liberal government appealed this decision, asking a court to overturn it. The court refused.

In 2019, the court ordered the government to pay the maximum compensation it could order – $40,000 – to each child who has been unnecessarily removed from their family since January 1, 2006, as well as parents or grandparents. parents whose children have been abducted.

The court also ruled that the criteria needed to be expanded so that more First Nations children could qualify for Jordan’s Principle.

The federal government also challenged the court orders in Federal Court and last fall appealed the ruling upholding it.

But that call has been put on hold pending negotiations with indigenous leaders on the compensation package. Former Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was hired to help facilitate the talks.

The agreement was eventually signed by all parties and filed with the Federal Court. The court and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will have to approve the settlement before the money is paid out.

Hajdu said she was unable to say when people will be able to apply for and receive compensation, but the AFN said she expects that to happen next year.

The other $20 billion for long-term reforms includes five-year funding for the First Nations Child and Family Services program.

Hajdu said the negotiation is more complex and requires the creation of “built-in mechanisms to ensure that children receive equal and adequate care, and increasingly, that Indigenous communities have the tools they need to take care of themselves.” even the control of this care”.

These reforms will largely occur through Bill C-92, passed in June 2019, which affirms that jurisdiction over child welfare services in Indigenous communities rests with Indigenous families and communities. themselves.

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