Court backs ruling that Canada must compensate indigenous foster children for discrimination

·2 min read

By Moira Warburton and Anna Mehler Paperny

(Reuters) -Canada's Federal Court on Wednesday upheld a human rights tribunal ruling ordering the Canadian government to compensate indigenous children and families in foster care for suffering discrimination.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2016 that the federal government allocated less funds for child and family services of indigenous people than for non-indigenous people, pushing more indigenous children into foster care.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government appealed the tribunal's follow-up order in 2019 that Ottawa pay each affected child C$40,000 ($31,500), the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The tribunal also said that with some exceptions, parents or grandparents of the children would also be eligible for compensation.

The tribunal's ruling could cost the federal government billions of dollars.

Federal Court Justice Paul Favel rejected the government's appeal and encouraged the two parties to continue negotiating.

"The parties must decide whether they will continue to sit beside the trail or move forward in this spirit of reconciliation," Favel wrote, referring to an indigenous parable about a man who sits beside a trail for so long that it grows over and he loses his way.

Trudeau's government could appeal the court's decision. His government has argued in the past that although the human rights tribunal was correct in finding discrimination in the system, it overreached by ordering compensation.

The government is reviewing the decision and more information "will be forthcoming," Marc Miller, minister for indigenous services, said in an emailed statement.

"Canada remains committed to compensating First Nations children who were removed from their families and communities," he added.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society that brought the original complaint, said the ruling was "a complete rejection of all the government’s spurious arguments, and a complete win for kids."

The Canadian government's legal battles with indigenous people have come under increased scrutiny after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at the sites of former residential schools.

Until as recently as 1996, Canada's residential school system separated children from their families and sent them to boarding schools where they were malnourished, beaten and sexually abused in what the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called "cultural genocide" in 2015.

($1 = 1.27 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Richard Pullin and Peter Cooney)

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