The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has approved a $23.4-billion settlement agreement for First Nations children, youth and families harmed by the federal government’s underfunding of child welfare services.
“According to the parties, this is the largest compensation settlement in Canadian history and it now includes a commitment from the Minister of Indigenous Services to request an apology from the Prime Minister,” the decision, released Wednesday, reads.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, has been negotiating the settlement alongside the Assembly of First Nations.
While compensation is important, justice will only be achieved once discrimination stops and effective measures are put in place so it doesn’t happen again, Blackstock said in a release.
“The tribunal called Canada’s discrimination ‘wilful and reckless’ and a ‘worst-case scenario’ because it separated children unnecessarily from their families and created other serious harms – including the tragic deaths of some children.”
The latest settlement comes more than 15 years after the two organizations jointly launched a human-rights complaint that sparked a years-long legal battle with Ottawa.
The 2007 complaint revolved around allegations that Ottawa’s underfunding of on-reserve child welfare services amounted to discrimination, and that First Nations children were denied equal access to support including school supplies and medical equipment.
The tribunal eventually ruled in the complainants’ favour, setting off a range of lawsuits, appeals and proposed settlements.
Last year, Ottawa offered to spend $20 billion to reform the child-welfare system and another $20 billion on compensation, but the tribunal rejected the proposal and raised concerns that not all eligible claimants would receive compensation.
The new deal included an extra $3 billion to compensate another 13,000 people and made other amendments both sides hoped would satisfy the tribunal’s concerns.
On Wednesday, the tribunal announced that the additional measures met the bar.
Those who qualify for the settlement will receive at least $40,000, with some receiving more, as the government has agreed to pay interest on the payments.
“Complete justice will be achieved when systemic racial discrimination no longer exists. The compensation in this case is only one component,” the decision reads.
“The tribunal, assisted meaningfully by the parties, has always focused on the need for a complete reform, the elimination of the systemic racial discrimination found and the need to prevent similar practices from arising. This continues to be the tribunal’s focus.”
Blackstock thanked First Nations leadership and experts, along with a long list of Indigenous groups and lawyers for their work on the file.
“Let’s finish the job by ending the discrimination and raising the first generation of First Nations children that do not have to recover from their childhoods.”