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

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

Rick Morgan, Nanaimo Search and Rescue building director, and Carly Trobridge, president and search manager, turn sod to kick off the start of renovations to NSAR’s headquarters Tuesday, Jan. 26. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Search and Rescue getting started on $2.6-million makeover at Harewood headquarters

Renovation project will increase space for vehicles and improve training and management operations

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

A downed power line has sparked a brush fire along Yellow Point Road south of Nanaimo. (Cole Schisler/Black Press)
Downed hydro line sparks brush fire in Yellow Point

North Oyster firefighters and B.C. Hydro on scene along Yellow Point Road

A concrete seawall built to prevent erosion on a property on Driftwood Drive on Mudge Island. (Islands Trust image)
Appeal Court says Mudge Island homeowners’ seawall has to go

Court decides right to guard against erosion isn’t a ‘privileged’ property right

McDonald’s on Nicol Street in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
McDonald’s in Nanaimo reports COVID-19 case

Employee at Nicol Street location last worked Jan. 17

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Emergency crews were called to a three-vehicle crash Monday morning on the old Island Highway close to Rock City Road. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Car, pickup and semi truck crash along the highway in Nanaimo

Incident happened in front of Rock City Plaza on Monday morning

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Most Read