Coalition asks federal justice minister to drop First Nations child welfare challenge

child welfare
Justice Minister David Lametti posing with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Julie Payette after being sworn in at Rideau Hall.

A coalition of organizations in Canada that provide programs for children across the country is appealing to re-appointed Justice Minister David Lametti to drop its judicial review of a ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) ordering Canada to pay compensation to First Nations children who have been affected by the child welfare system.

The letter, dated Nov. 21, is from a number of high profile organizations including The Boys and Girls Club, Amnesty International, the Indigenous Bar Association, and the Canadian Association of Social Workers.

“Today, on your first day as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, we ask that you act in the best interest of children,” the statement says. “Please honour the CHRT ruling, drop Canada’s judicial review, and act without delay to compensate the First Nations children, youth and families Canada has harmed.”

The case involves a ruling from the CHRT that found Canada guilty of “wilfully and recklessly” under funding the on-reserve child welfare system and ordered each child be paid $40,000 if they were removed for anything other than physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Parents or guardians could also be eligible for payments.

The ruling followed the tribunal’s historic decision on Jan. 26, 2016 that first found Canada guilty of purposely discriminating against First Nations children.

Lametti’s justice ministry is leading the case on behalf of Indigenous Services, which is now being led by Quebec MP Marc Miller.

(Quebec MP Marc Miller is the new Minister of Indigenous Services and is in charge of the First Nations child welfare file)

According to affidavits filed with the federal court by the government, the ruling from the CHRT could cost in excess of $8 billion.

The hearings are scheduled over two days, beginning Monday, Nov. 25 in Ottawa.

APTN News will live-stream the proceedings both days.

The government said in its appeal it wants the court to set aside the tribunal’s ruling for compensation or send it back to the tribunal to be reconsidered.

During the federal leaders’ debate in October, Trudeau was chastised for calling for a judicial review and shot back that First Nations children do deserve compensation, but didn’t explain how the government would go about administering it.

“We recognize the tribunal’s ruling that says that children need to be compensated and we will be compensating them,” Trudeau said during the Oct. 7 debate.

“But we’ve also moved forward to end the tragedies by moving forward on legislation that keeps kids in care in their communities with their language with their culture.”

Trudeau is referring to Bill C-92, a piece of legislation that barely passed at the end of the last session of Parliament.

It promises vast changes to the child welfare system across the country for First Nations communities – but it isn’t without its issues.

The federal government has come under fire for neglecting to earmark money in the legislation for any kind of transition to the new system.

And according to lawyers who work in the child welfare field, the people who need to know about C-92 and how it will be implemented have not been told anything about the transition that will take place  Jan. 1, 2020, when the bill becomes law.

“It’s very unclear to me what, if any, steps the federal government has taken to make sure that everyone knows about it and to have a coordinated effort. It doesn’t seem anybody has an idea of how this is going to work,” said Sarah Clarke, a child protection lawyer based in Toronto, Ont., told APTN News.

Read More: 

Trudeau has no plan in place to implement child welfare act: lawyers

‘Wilfully and recklessly’: Human rights tribunal awards compensation for First Nations children in care

Until something changes, the coalition told Lametti that they will be at the judicial hearings starting Monday.

“In our work, we have witnessed the effects of the harm of Canada’s discrimination in child and family services,” the letter said. “We are prepared to be a witness again on November 25th and 26th, when children head back to court to ask that the government to respect their right to safety, family, and culture.

“But we would rather witness justice.”

APTN asked Lametti’s office for a comment on the letter but our request was forwarded to Indigenous Services.

No one from Indigenous Services offered a comment at the time the story was posted.

[email protected]


With files from Kenneth Jackson.

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