The Trudeau Government doesn’t believe all kids who were removed from their families and put into the child welfare system deserve the same amount money, according to an audio recording of an October meeting involving Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
Bennett was questioned by Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod on Oct. 11 about the Liberal government’s efforts to quash a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order that ordered Canada to pay $40,000 to every First Nations child put into care since 2007.
“Do you think that paying a toddler, or somebody who was there, in care for a week, the same as somebody who was in 10 different families, abuse in every one,” Bennett says, according to a transcript of the conversation filed in Federal Court on Friday by Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFS), the lead litigant in the case.
“How does this person feel? And, and, and how much hurt does that do? We want to get to the table and get it right. That’s, that’s all we wanna do. We want to be able to get it right.”
Watch Jamie Pashagumskum’s report:
A letter from McLeod to Blackstock dated Oct. 15, 2019 says the meeting also included Liberal federal election candidate for Parry Sound-Muskoka Trisha Cowie, who is a lawyer from Hiawatha First Nation, and other chiefs from the area.
McLeod says in the letter that he recorded the conversation because he didn’t have writing materials to take notes. He also explains that he is sharing the recording with Blackstock in order to “assist in our deliberations on this matter.”
Bennett suggests, according to the transcript, that Justin Trudeau’s statements on the tribunal’s compensation order are “way more important” than the government’s official legal position.
“I am telling you, that whatever the Prime Minister says, and what the Prime Minister has demonstrated to do, is way more important than anything what any lawyer from the Department of Justice has to say there,” she says.
“I think that there are certain things that lawyers say in courting the pleading that are really obnoxious. And I’m the first one to say that as the client I hate that … but people need to know that this is not what we or the Prime Minister feel.”
“I am no legal expert but it’s almost as if you’re saying don’t pay attention to the devils in the detail, listen to what we’re saying,” McLeod responds.
Bennett also says money isn’t an issue.
“We’ve got lots of money to, to do the right thing by, by people.”
But when speaking with APTN News, McLeod said Friday that’s exactly what he took away from his conversation with Bennett.
“Is their priority really about saving money, that some of the kids may not have been hurt or suffered that bad and hold up restoration to the kids that have? To me, it was a weak argument. It was one about money,” said McLeod, adding Bennett didn’t know she was being recorded. “It’s a bit of an insult to First Nation communities when we are talking about our children here.”
The federal government previously filed in court saying the tribunal’s order could cost upwards of $8 billion to back up its request to dismiss the tribunal’s compensation order.
McLeod also didn’t care for Bennett saying chiefs need to trust her and the Trudeau government as nothing in history suggests Indigenous people should.
“I am not sure where she thinks we stand in our relationship. First Nation communities and people have been lied and cheated by government for the last 160 years,” he said.
From the transcript it also appears Trudeau doesn’t want to work with organizations, but rather the survivors or families of children who died in care.
McLeod asked Bennett why Canada couldn’t meet the Dec. 10 deadline, as ordered by the tribunal, to set up a system on how compensation would be delivered. The main parties fighting for the children, the FNCFS and the Assembly of First Nations, are ready to meet the deadline.
“The Caring Society has publicly said it’s going to meet the December 10th, uh, deadline, but Canada has not appointed an official date for them to work with. So, my question is, how can you possibly say that you’re not ready, when The Caring Society and the AFN has undertaken the necessary steps to submit a well thought out process by December 10th? Why don’t you talk to them?” McLeod says.
Bennett replied Canada has tried.
“I, we, are not, I think, comfortable letting them design a plan without the survivors and the people harmed at the table,” Bennett says.
“This is about individual compensation being fair and being seen to be fair by the people harmed. We have made fair and equitable settlements in many, many cases, but never just with organizations at the table.”
Bennett also places blame on child welfare agencies, which is in part why, last spring, Canada passed Bill C-92 to affirm First Nation jurisdiction of their children.
“(C-92) means that you’re the only people who know who’s the healthy auntie, or the healthy grandparents. The agencies sometimes are sending children into homes that aren’t safe,” Bennett says. “You all know the agencies haven’t been serving your people well. We want with Bill C-92, we want the money to go to kids, and families, and communities to prevent these kids being apprehended.”
APTN News recently reported that 102 Indigenous children connected to child welfare in Ontario died in five years, between 2013 and 2017. The official numbers for 2018 have not be publicly released. Of the 102, 48 died during 2016 and 2017 at the same time the Trudeau government did not comply with the tribunal’s historic Jan. 26, 2016 ruling.
It would take multiple non-compliance orders before Trudeau increased funding for Indigenous agencies on Feb. 21, 2018, when the first payment went out to an agency, as the tribunal ordered Canada to retroactively reimburse agencies back to 2016.
Blackstock told APTN that Bennett’s statements are “deeply troubling” given they contradict the Department of Justice’s application to have the tribunal’s order stayed.
“It really sends the inaccurate information and misleading information out about what should be a very sensitive topic which is the compensation of children in care,” said Blackstock.
She also doesn’t like the idea of the removing the parties that have been fighting for First Nations children at the tribunal for over a decade.
“I would be against Canada sitting down with children and their families and asking them what it felt like to be taken away from their families,” said Blackstock.
Cowie told APTN she was trying to get answers for chiefs at the October meeting.
“I wanna see a settlement for these children and these families and how we get there is going to be a difficult path and I’m sorry that that’s the case,” she said.
Bennett’s office responded to APTN late Friday afternoon.
“We agree with the tribunal in the need for compensation for those who have been through horrific situations,” said a spokesperson in an email. “This is a priority for our government, and we will ensure that we are delivering compensation, much as we have with the Sixties Scoop and Day School settlements.”
The transcript was filed in Federal Court but also made available on the FNCFS’s website.
With files from Jamie Pashagumskum.