Children play in the water filled ditches in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. The Liberal government is expected to reveal today whether it will continue fighting an order directing it to compensate First Nations children removed from their homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Children play in the water filled ditches in the northern Ontario First Nations reserve in Attawapiskat, Ont., on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. The Liberal government is expected to reveal today whether it will continue fighting an order directing it to compensate First Nations children removed from their homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Window closing for Ottawa to appeal ruling to compensate First Nations kids

Pressure has been mounting on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accept the ruling

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is expected to reveal today whether it will continue fighting an order directing it to compensate First Nations children removed from their homes.

A 30-day legal window is closing for Ottawa to appeal a Federal Court ruling which upheld two historic decisions from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

It found Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by knowingly underfunding child and family services for those living on reserve.

Litigants in the case say this led to thousands of kids being taken away from their families and enduring abuse and suffering in provincial foster care systems.

The tribunal said each First Nations child, along with their parents or grandparents, who were separated because of this chronic underfunding were eligible to receive $40,000 each in federal compensation.

It also ruled that the criteria needed to be expanded so more First Nations children could be eligible for Jordan’s Principle, a rule designed to ensure jurisdictional disputes over who pays for what doesn’t prevent kids from accessing government services.

In 2019, the federal government asked the Federal Court to dismiss the tribunal’s decisions, but the court last month upheld them.

Since then, pressure has been mounting from opposition parties and Indigenous leaders on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accept the ruling, rather than take it to the Federal Court of Appeal.

Figuring out what to do next has been one of the first major decisions his re-elected Liberal government and newly named cabinet ministers have had to grapple with.

Trudeau, along with his freshly appointed Indigenous Services minister, Patty Hajdu, said this week the case was being reviewed thoroughly and underscored that First Nations children would be compensated.

Despite that, neither directly ruled out seeking another court review, with Justice Minister David Lametti later saying there are different factors at play and that the file is a complicated one.

Child-welfare advocates and case litigants say if the Trudeau government is serious about its commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous People it won’t go back to court.

Repairing Canada’s relationship with Indigenous communities has long been a priority of Trudeau’s, but the discovery of what are believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites by First Nations in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have heightened Canadians’ attention to his promise.

Trudeau has been under even more pressure to prove his commitment to reconciliation after choosing to spend the first national Truth and Reconcilation Day last month on vacation in Tofino, B.C., rather than attend a ceremony commemorating unmarked graves found at the former Kamloops residential school site. He has since visited the site and apologized profusely to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, which had issued an invitation for him to attend the Sept. 30 ceremony.

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

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