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Canada appeals decision on indigenous children but seeks settlement talks

An indigenous child holds a flag during the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on September 30, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The Canadian government has appealed a federal court decision upholding a ruling that would require that it pay billions of dollars to indigenous children and their caregivers harmed by a discriminatory welfare system, saying it would instead seek to negotiate a deal.

At a news conference on Friday, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said that two advocacy groups, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations, have both agreed to sit down with officials to try to hammer out a negotiated deal by the end of December.

Today we reached an agreement with all parties to put this appeal on pause…

— Patty Hajdu (@PattyHajdu) October 29, 2021

“Today, the Government of Canada and the Parties, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Assembly of First Nations, are announcing that we have agreed to sit down immediately and work towards reaching a global resolution by December 2021 on outstanding issues that have been the subject of litigation,” said the statement.

The statement is issued jointly on behalf of Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, and David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Miller said the government is putting “a very significant financial package” forward to compensate children who have suffered harm, adding, he cannot disclose the specific amount but the government knows that proper compensation would amount to “billions of dollars.”

Canada's federal court last month found that the government had discriminated against some 50,000 children by not properly funding child and family services in indigenous communities, upholding a prior decision by a human rights tribunal.

The tribunal had ordered the federal government to pay compensation worth $40,000 CAD (US$31,500) to each child removed from his or her home – the maximum allowable under the country’s human rights act.

That appeal was dismissed by a federal court judge who found that the government had failed to demonstrate the tribunal’s decision was unreasonable. The ruling could impact more than 50,000 Indigenous children.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who won re-election last month, came into office in 2015 promising to strengthen and restore ties with native communities.

Canada's 1.7 million indigenous citizens, nearly 5% of the population, mostly live in isolated communities where poverty, high unemployment and high risk of suicide are chronic problems.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s report in 2015 determined that at least 3,200 Indigenous children died while attending residential schools, and that the general practice was “not to send the bodies of students who died at schools to their home communities.”

Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated more than 150,000 First Nations children from their families between 1831 and 1996. Many of the children separated from their homes by the church’s school system were subjected to abuse, rape, and malnutrition. In 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized.

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