Agreement reached on Indigenous child welfare compensation

Agreement reached on Indigenous child welfare compensation-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller, right, and Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu, appearing virtually, are pictured at a news conference in October. (The Canadian Press)

A compensation agreement has been reached and signed off by all parties to settle a long-standing dispute over the Indigenous child welfare system, CBC News has learned.

Sources close to the negotiations told CBC News the agreement was reached Friday to settle compensation claims related to a landmark Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on Indigenous child welfare compensation.

The parties to the dispute, which include the federal government on one side and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on the other, agreed to negotiate until a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.

The sources spoke to CBC News on condition of confidentiality because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The dispute revolves around federal funding for the child welfare system on reserves.

It started in 2007, when the AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal alleging that the system was flawed and discriminated against First Nations children. The tribunal issued a decision in 2016 concluding that the federal government did discriminate against First Nations children by underfunding the on-reserve child welfare system.

In 2019, the tribunal ordered Ottawa to pay $40,000 — the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act — to each child, along with their primary guardian, who was part of the on-reserve child welfare system from at least Jan. 1, 2006, to a date to be determined by the tribunal.

The tribunal also directed Ottawa to pay $40,000 to each First Nations child, along with their primary guardian, who was denied services or forced to leave home to access services covered by the policy known as Jordan’s Principle.

The AFN estimates some 54,000 children and their families could qualify for compensation.

The Federal Court upheld that decision this year. The government appealed, but that appeal was put on pause while the parties tried to strike an agreement outside of court.

The parties indicated that if a deal wasn’t finalized by the end of December, they could be heading back to court. Friday’s agreement suggests an appeal is now unlikely.

Details of Friday’s out-of-court settlement were not immediately made public.

Playground-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Children at a playground in Attawapiskat First Nation, in northern Ontario, in 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

In its recent economic statement, issued earlier this month, the federal government earmarked $40 billion for First Nations child welfare. The government set aside the money to cover the cost of settling a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order and class-action lawsuits related to the on-reserve First Nations child welfare system, as well as to fund long-term reforms to the system.

A joint new conference with the parties is to be held on Tuesday, when details will be provided.

“Parties have been working closely toward a global resolution and we look forward to providing a more fulsome update on Tuesday,” a spokesperson for Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu told CBC News.

Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, chaired the discussions between the federal government and child welfare advocates. The former senator is a highly respected voice on matters of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The government previously credited Sinclair with keeping the talks from falling apart.

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