OTTAWA — Federal lawyers will be in court later this morning to argue the government’s appeal of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that ordered Ottawa to pay billions of dollars in compensation to First Nations children and their families.
In September, the tribunal ordered the federal government to pay $40,000 for every First Nations child who was inappropriately taken away from their parents after 2006.
The Assembly of First Nations estimated that 54,000 children and their parents could be eligible for total compensation that could exceed $2 billion.
The ruling said the government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on-reserve by not properly funding child and family services.
The government has said it planned to appeal the damage award because the timing of the election campaign made it impossible to organize compensation by a Dec. 10 deadline.
Justice Department lawyers will ask the Federal Court for a stay of execution of the tribunal’s order later this morning during the first of two days of hearings set aside for the case.
The tribunal’s ruling came shortly before the start of the federal election campaign and has bolstered criticism of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to reconciliation.
Trudeau has said he agrees with many of the tribunal’s findings, but that more time is needed for consultation than the tribunal’s Dec. 10 deadline allows.
The government’s decision to petition the court to delay the effect of the ruling sparked more criticism on Sunday, when the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs held a news conference in Vancouver and a led a march in the Downtown Eastside.
Several people who spent time in the child-welfare system said they were inspired to speak out after the death of a 29-year-old man who had few resources when he aged out of care and fatally overdosed in a shelter on Nov. 13.
Jaye Simpson, who was in government care as a youth, said there’s no point in the government discussing reconciliation if the tribunal’s decision is challenged and discriminatory policies continue.
“All of us have the capacity to re-engage with our culture, our ceremony and life but that is being impeded by Trudeau’s unjust recognition of this,” she said.
Dawn Johnson, who also spent her childhood in care, said Ottawa doesn’t need to do any more consultations before ending discriminatory policies.
“They’ve been fighting this since 2006, so we’re going on 14 years that the government is wilfully and recklessly choosing economics and finances over the lives of children and families,” Johnson said.
“They’ve had plenty of time to cease the discrimination and have funnelled billions of dollars into taking Indigenous children to court and righting this. They need to cease the discrimination now. They need to compensate.”
Johnson said the higher cost of separating children from families comes from more Indigenous people behind bars, on the streets and in the mental-health system so compensation would be a cheaper alternative for the government.