'Put down your sword': Federal Court dismisses feds' Indigenous child-welfare appeals

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The Federal Court has dismissed Ottawa's attempts to appeal a pair of rulings about providing services and compensation to First Nations children.

In September 2019, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled Ottawa didn't properly fund child and family services, which resulted in it "wilfully and recklessly" discriminating against Indigenous children living on reserve.

It ordered the federal government to pay $40,000 each to about 50,000 First Nations children as well as their relatives, but the Liberal government appealed the ruling.

The second legal battle stems from a separate ruling in November 2020 that expanded the scope of Jordan's Principle, which is a rule stating when there is jurisdictional disagreement over what level of government should provide a service to First Nations children, Ottawa takes on the responsibility.

"No one can seriously doubt that First Nations people are amongst the most disadvantaged and marginalized members of Canadian society," Justice Paul Favel wrote in his decision released Wednesday. "The Tribunal was aware of this and reasonably attempted to remedy the discrimination while being attentive to the very different positions of the parties."

Favel found that the government failed to establish that either of the tribunal's decisions were unreasonable.

"In my view, the procedural history of this case has demonstrated that there is, and has been, good will resulting in significant movements toward remedying this unprecedented discrimination. However, the good work of the parties is unfinished," Favel wrote.

"The parties must decide whether they will continue to sit beside the trail or move forward in this spirit of reconciliation."

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, which is one of the parties fighting for Indigenous children to be compensated, says the judicial reviews Ottawa launched took direct aim at central calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada regarding child welfare and Jordan's Principle.

"This is the moment for Canadians, with the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation tomorrow and knowing that these are some of the top calls to action, to get ahold of their elected officials and say, 'put down your sword.'"

"They have been fighting this case against First Nations kids to get equitable services and their families to get help to recover from the residential school trauma for now 14-and-a-half years … the Canadian people are now at a place where they want to see the TRC calls to action realized."

Opposition parties and Indigenous leaders have criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to fight both of these rulings, saying that's not the appropriate course of action for a government committed to reconciliation.

“Today was an absolute victory for First Nation children. For six years Justin Trudeau spent millions fighting the rights of Indigenous children and trying to overturn a ruling that found his government guilty of 'wilful and reckless' discrimination against vulnerable Indigenous kids. The court has thrown his case out," NDP MP Charlie Angus said in a statement Wednesday.

He called for the government to immediately end its legal battle in the matter and focus on closing funding gaps and chronic denial of services to First Nations children.

"Given that tomorrow is the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, it is imperative that the federal government finally take clear steps towards truth, justice and reconciliation for all Indigenous people in Canada," he wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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