Federal government, AFN reach $20B final settlement on First Nations child welfare agreement

·3 min read
Every Child Matters flags fly in Maskwacis, Alta., Monday, June 27, 2022. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Every Child Matters flags fly in Maskwacis, Alta., Monday, June 27, 2022. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Money to compensate young people harmed by Canada's discriminatory child welfare system is expected to begin flowing to First Nations sometime next year, now that the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) have reached a final settlement agreement.

Ottawa, the AFN and plaintiffs in two class-action cases reached an agreement-in-principle earlier this year. The parties announced Monday that the agreement had been finalized.

Indigenous Services Canada says the settlement is the largest in Canadian history.

In total, $20 billion will be made available to:

  • First Nations children on-reserve and in the Yukon who were removed from their homes between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022.

  • Children who did not receive an essential public service or faced delays in accessing such services between April 1, 1991 and Dec. 11, 2007.

  • Caregiving parents or grandparents of the children covered by the agreement who may also be eligible for compensation.

Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse said in a media statement that she expects to see the money start arriving next year.

"We've held our children in our hearts and prayers throughout negotiations," Woodhouse said in her statement.

The final agreement still needs to be approved by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Federal Court.

The non-binding agreement reached earlier this year also includes $20 billion for long-term reform of the on-reserve child welfare system, but a final settlement on that portion has yet to be reached.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2016 that $40,000 should be paid to each First Nations child unnecessarily placed in foster care.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said in January that the $20 billion is expected to cover those minimum payments and those who may be entitled to more.

"I am hopeful that the court process for approving the agreement will be quick, and people and families can have the certainty and resolution they have asked for," Hajdu said in a media statement on Monday.

Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

The Federal Court had dismissed Canada's application to review two human rights tribunal orders on child welfare and Jordan's Principle — which is meant to eliminate jurisdictional squabbles over paying for government services for First Nations kids.

The government said at the time that it did not oppose compensation. It argued that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction to order specific compensation amounts in the manner of a class action lawsuit.

The government also took issue with the fact that the order would award the same amount of money to someone who spent one day in care as it would to someone who spent an entire childhood there.

In his ruling, Justice Paul Favel said negotiations could help realize the goal of reconciliation and would be "the preferred outcome for both Indigenous people and Canada."

The government said it intended to appeal the decision — but would put the litigation on hold as it entered negotiations and would drop the appeal altogether once the deal is approved. The Federal Court is set to review the deal in September, according to the AFN.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, called on the government to immediately abandon its appeal.

"The Caring Society believes Canada should pay the human rights compensation to victims immediately and drop their appeal at the Federal Court of Appeal," she said in a tweet.

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