After dismissing a pair of legal objections by the government, a federal court in Canada has cleared the way for billions of dollars in compensation for First Nations children who faced discrimination in the welfare system. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decided two years ago that the federal government discriminated against Indigenous children living on reservations by failing to adequately finance child and family services.
The tribunal decided that the federal government must pay C$40,000 in compensation to each kid removed from his or her family – the highest permitted under the country’s human rights statute. Instead of paying the compensation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will fight the judgment to “ensure we’re getting compensation right.” However, a federal court ruled on Wednesday that the tribunal’s compensation decision was not unreasonable.
“No one can seriously doubt that First Nations people are among the most disadvantaged and marginalized members of Canadian society,” stated Justice Paul Favel in his judgment. “The tribunal was aware of this and reasonably attempted to remedy the discrimination while keeping in mind the parties’ very different positions.” The court also weighed in on a separate dispute over “Jordan’s principle,” which holds that First Nations children should not be denied treatment while governments argue about financial responsibility. Jordan River Anderson, a five-year-old kid who died of a medical ailment while governments battled over who should pay for his care, inspired the idea.
Favel found that the government failed to show that any of the tribunal’s rulings were unreasonable in both instances. The compensation fight began 14 years ago, when Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations, contended that Ottawa’s actions amounted to racial discrimination by underfunding child welfare on reserve. Indigenous leaders have long condemned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to challenge both of these judgments. According to critics, the unwillingness to compensate children is inconsistent with a government devoted to reconciliation. In June, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh introduced a resolution requesting that the federal government drop its legal challenges. The resolution was unanimously approved by the House of Commons.