The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ordered Canada to pay compensation to First Nation children, youth and families who were taken from their homes on reserve and put in care of the state.
“This ruling is dedicated to all the First Nations children, their families and communities who were harmed by the unnecessary removal of children from your homes and communities,” the ruling says.
In the ruling issued Friday, the tribunal awarded $40,000 to each child who was taken from their parents for reasons other than sexual, physical or psychological abuse.
Under the Human Rights Act, the tribunal panel of chair Sophie Marchildon and Edward Lustig were allowed to award a maximum of $20,000 per victim.
They could add another $20,000 if the discrimination was found to be wilful and reckless.
“The Panel finds that it has sufficient evidence to find that Canada’s conduct was wilful and reckless resulting in what we have referred to as the worst-case scenario under our Act,” the ruling says.
“This case of racial discrimination is one of the worst possible cases warranting the maximum awards.”
According to the report, there are between 40,000 and 80,000 on reserve children who were made wards of the state between 2006 and 2017.
Each child would receive compensation – along with their parents or grandparents – at a figure yet to be fully determined.
The total compensation package, unless challenged by Canada, will reach into the billions of dollars.
“The Tribunal’s finding that Canada wilfully and recklessly discriminated against First Nations children demonstrates how little Canada learned from the residential school and the 60’s scoop apologies and class actions,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS).
“They knew better and did not do better resulting in tragedy for another generation of First Nations children, families and Nations.”
According to the ruling, a number of factors play into who is eligible for compensation.
Children living on reserve or in the Yukon, and taken into care unnecessarily, were removed from their homes on reserve due to abuse but were placed outside their extended families or communities and thus did not benefit from least disruptive measures, or as a result of a gap, delay and/or denial of services, and was placed in care outside of their home, family and community in order to receive those services.
The panel is also ordering full compensation for parents and grandparents who were caring for a child who was unnecessarily removed.
“No amount of compensation can ever recover what you have lost, the scars that are left on your souls or the suffering that you have gone through as a result of racism, colonial practices and discrimination,” wrote the tribunal. “This is the truth.”
The case against the government was filed with the Tribunal in 2007 by the FNCFCS and Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
The two groups argued that Canada discriminated against First Nation children in care by not funding child welfare services to the same level as children living off reserve.
In 2016 the Tribunal agreed and ordered Canada to stop it’s discriminatory practices and followed up with several warnings.
The issue of compensation was fought by government lawyers who argued, among other things, that the tribunal didn’t evidence from any victims in order to gauge the amount of harm done in order to put a price on that harm.
The government says it’s reviewing the ruling.
“We want to ensure that, first and foremost, we continue to place the best interests of the child at the forefront,” Kevin Deagle, policy advisor for Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, said in an email.
“Our government is committed to seeing the unmet and longstanding needs of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children met.
“Our government is committed to closing socioeconomic gaps, and that’s why we’ve invested $21.4 billion in Indigenous housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and clean water– all key elements in improving the lives of Indigenous children.”
The government also outlined in the email it has put investments into First Nations child welfare including $1.2 billion since 2016, and introduced Bill C-92 – a law that, while flawed, will revamp the First Nations, Metis and Inuit child welfare system.
Canada has 30 days to appeal the ruling.
But the tribunal’s ruling has more to do with what the government hasn’t done over time, rather than what it’s doing today.
“In British Columbia, I have witnessed the harm to First Nations children and families caused by removing children when supports in their homes, families and communities should have been considered or improved,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, in a statement to media.
“The Tribunal found massive systemic discrimination and said it was willful and reckless on the part of the Government of Canada. This is something we have known in our own families and communities for a long time.”
The government, FNCFCS and the AFN have until Dec. 10 to work out a process to identify, and then distribute the compensation to those who are eligible.