It’s the biggest class-action suit in Canadian history – and it represents a new day for the future of child-protection and family services in Indigenous communities.
A $40 billion agreement in principle between the federal government and class-action plaintiffs on behalf of the 200,000 or so Indigenous children removed from their homes and communities and placed in non-Indigenous homes, where they were often faced with racism and abuse, will mean a new beginning for First Nations children from coast to coast to coast, reporters were told in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“This marks the beginning of a new partnership for First Nations children in Canada,” said Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians Grand Chief Joel Abram. “It will allow us to begin the hard work of righting past wrongs and get off to a good start.”
The settlement will include $20 billion in compensation to three classes of individuals in the Jordan’s Principle suit. First Nations children on reserve in Canada who were removed from their homes from 1991-to present; First Nations children living on or off reserve that missed out on essential services from 1991 to 2017; and caregivers of those children that were removed from their homes in many cases. Another $19.2 billion will be set aside to reform the federal child-welfare system in First Nations communities with an eye on ensuring Indigenous communities to set up their own child-protection agencies.
Most children who were removed from their homes will receive compensation of $40,000 individually in most cases, and some will receive more. The government said once the agreement is finalized, the appeal of last fall’s the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on behalf of the class-action plaintiffs will be dropped.
There is no timeline yet that will indicate when survivors might actually receive their compensation packages, but they’ll get it “as fast as possible,” federal Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Marc Miller said.
“A final agreement is still in the process, but it is the biggest class-action settlement in Canadian history. Historic wrongs require historic reparations,” he said, adding that despite “tough discussions” at the negotiating table, “there was a common message of hope and healing for the next generation. A lot has been accomplished in six short weeks,” of negotiations.
Sotos law firm representative David Stearns said the legal fees will not come out of the overall compensation package, but will be covered by the Supreme Court of Canada. Individuals who want to register for the settlement can do so at www.sotosclassactions.com and clicking on ‘cases’ and ‘First Nations kids.’
Assembly of First Nations regional Manitoba Chief Cindy Woodhouse said poverty should never be a reason that a child is taken from their homes and communities.
“There was a massive overrepresentation in First Nations children who were placed into child protective services and there was monumental suffering that they endured at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect them,” she said. “Most Canadians do not know this, but child-welfare officials were encouraged to remove those children from their homes, until recently. But today is about a plan for the future and moving past the suffering and the harms these children suffered.”
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase