On Oct. 4, the federal government appealed the ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT), ordering the federal government to pay $40,000 dollars to each Indigenous child who was taken from their home under the on-reserve child welfare system.
According to CBC, over 50,000 children have been affected by the on-reserve child-welfare system.
“People are shocked about the appeal,” said Elizabeth Fast, a Métis professor in Applied Human Sciences at Concordia. Fast has worked with children transitioning out of the child-welfare system and is leading a research project aimed at improving First Nations child-welfare services in Montreal.
“It doesn’t make sense why the government is doing this,” said Fast. “So many years were spent fighting this, the court looked over all the evidence and it was a victory for the families involved.”
“People were happy with the victory, it was recognition for on-reserve children,” Fast said, referring to September when the CHRT gave the order.
Hours after the appeal was filed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberals agree with the tribunal’s finding that individuals who were harmed deserve compensation.
“But the question is how to do that?” Trudeau said at a press conference in Quebec on Oct.4, three days before the deadline to file an appeal. “We need to have conversations with partners, we need to have conversations with communities, with leaders to make sure we’re getting that compensation right.”
Trudeau stated that the federal government can’t have those discussions because of the election. Thus the federal government needs time to consider all options.
The CHRT ruled there was discrimination against Indigenous in the welfare system over three years ago, according to the National Post.
Fast said she doesn’t understand why the Liberal government is doing this during the peak election period.
“It is a total disregard of First Nations voters, it moves away from reconciliation, and assumes the public will be okay with this.” Fast said.
Yet, she does admit that not a lot of people know about systemic discrimination.
“I talked about it in my class, and none of my students knew about it.” Fast said, referring to her Critical Indigenous Perspectives course.
“The media can do more, to call people to action and hold the government accountable,” she said, warning that the government tries to distract people from issues like this.
What lead to the appeal
According to The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Indigenous children in the on-reserve welfare system are given inadequate and under funded services.
The reason for this is because both provincial and territorial Indigenous child-welfare laws apply both on and off-reserve. However, because the children are on a reserve, provinces and territories expect the federal government to pay for the children’s services.
Thus, when the federal government does not adequately fund the child-welfare services, neither do the provinces or territories.
In 2000, the First Nations Child and Family Services Joint National Policy Review: Final Report, was released. It stated that Indigenous children received 22 per cent less funding for child-welfare compared to non-Indigenous children.
In 2007, the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint to CHRT, stating that the federal government discriminates against Indigenous children by not funding child-welfare enough on reserve.
A decade of gathering evidence went into the complaint.
According to CBC, by 2014 the federal government spent more than $5.3 million in legal fees trying to get the case thrown out.
In 2016, the CHRT deemed Canada to be guilty for discriminating against Indigenous children in the welfare system.
“Canada’s flawed and inequitable provisions of First Nations child and family services is discriminatory pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act on the grounds of race and national ethnic origin,” stated the CHRT in the McGill Law Journal, Érudit.
APTN reports that from 2013 to 2017, 102 Indigenous children connected to child-welfare died in Ontario alone.
Graphic by @sundaeghost