Indigenous children play in water-filled ditches in Attawapiskat, Ont. on April 19, 2016. Federal lawyers will be in court later this morning to argue the government’s appeal of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that ordered Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to First Nations children and their families. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

First Nations child welfare case adjourns, judge reserves decision

Ottawa wants to compensate First Nations families through a settlement in a separate class-action lawsuit

Advocates fighting for First Nations children and families ripped apart by an underfunded child welfare system say the Trudeau government should stop challenging a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order that awarded money to victims.

Lawyers on Tuesday wrapped up arguments in a Federal Court case challenging the tribunal’s ruling that Ottawa pay $40,000 to every First Nations child who was inappropriately taken away from their parents after 2006.

The ruling said the federal government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on-reserve by not properly funding child and family services. As a result, children were sent away from their homes, families and reserves.

Had they lived off-reserve, the children would be covered by better-funded provincial systems.

The Liberal government, which is appealing the tribunal’s decision, had its lawyers ask the Federal Court to stay the tribunal’s order that imposed a Dec. 10 deadline for the government to come up with a plan on how it would provide payment to victims.

Justice Department lawyer Robert Frater said Canada agrees its actions were discriminatory and that the government will compensate children and their families.

But Frater called the human rights tribunal’s order an “unnecessarily invasive piece of surgery by the wrong doctors.”

READ MORE: More First Nations kids deserve child-welfare compensation, federal lawyers argue

Ottawa instead wants to compensate First Nations families through a settlement in a separate but related class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year seeking $6 billion in damages for Indigenous children.

Federal Court Justice Paul Favel is reserving judgment, but said he will deliver a decision as soon as possible in a nod to the looming Dec. 10 deadline.

The government wants to negotiate a settlement that will cover all victims going back to 1991, and argued in court that the tribunal decision’s compensation plan doesn’t allow for this because its order only includes victims and their families since 2006.

Lawyers for the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which filed the original human-rights complaint in 2007, and other parties in the case said nothing stops the government from paying damages awarded by the human-rights tribunal while also extending compensation to other victims.

Cindy Blackstock, the society’s executive director, said the government is “shopping around for a court where they can do what they want” by trying to provide compensation through the class-action lawsuit instead of following the tribunal’s order.

“We’re in the litigation process at the tribunal on compensation because Canada wanted us to go there. We wanted to mediate, but Canada said, ‘No, we have to litigate this at the tribunal.’ So they got what they wanted, which is an order,” Blackstock told reporters outside the courtroom Tuesday.

“Now they don’t like the order and they want it out of the way,” she said, adding, “it feels like they’re just trying to find a place that agrees with them.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who took in the court proceedings Tuesday, said he will continue to push Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop taking Indigenous children to court.

“The government should drop the appeal, it should follow the tribunal decision. If there are other cases and other discrimination that need to be addressed, address that as well.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. premier talks forestry, service needs with handful of northern mayors in Prince George

Prince George meeting completes premier’s tour of Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. James and Quesnel

Almost 20,000 parking tickets issued by Interior Health at hospitals in 2019

In 2018, pay parking in Interior Health hospitals totalled $5.3 million of their $2.2-billion budget

Slippery road conditions lead to single-vehicle rollover on Horse Lake Road

Fire Chief Roger Hollander says the area should be cleaned up in approximately 20 minutes.

Clinton hires new Chief Administrative Officer

Wendy Rockafellow will join the village on Jan. 27

Anti-pipeline protests in support of Wet’suwet’en continue at B.C. government buildings

‘We are unarmed, they have guns,’ protesters chanted on Wednesday morning

Horgan unveils B.C. cabinet shuffle changes

Premier John Horgan has made three major changes to his cabinet

Dog reunited with Tofino owner, months after being taken from beach

Shannon Boothman ‘ecstatic’ at pet’s return after a tip leads to social media search

B.C.’s first ride-hailing app to launch in Tofino, Whistler in February

The Whistle! app will be available in Tofino on Feb.1 and in Whistler Feb. 6.

Councillor resigns in Revelstoke after colleagues approved 67% raise

Council approved a 134 per cent raise for the mayor of Revelstoke

Rolled-over dairy truck in Abbotsford lost 40,000 litres of milk

Truck removed Sunday, Jan. 19, with specialized equipment to upright vehicle

Boy, 13, arrested after alleged assault involving girl at B.C. middle school

Boy alleged to have used ‘inappropriate levels of force’ to injure the girl

B.C. asks health-care staff to be ‘vigilant’ when screening for coronavirus

This comes after U.S. health officials confirmed a case of the virus in Washington State

B.C. player becomes only second Canadian to enter Hall of Fame of Baseball

Walker received 76.6 percent of the Baseball Writers of America Association vote

Most Read