Canada unveils $40 billion First Nations child-welfare settlement

By The Canadian Press and Claire Fenton

An agreement in principle has been signed between the government of Canada and First Nations partners to compensate children harmed by Ottawa’s underfunding of the child welfare system.

Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu announced Tuesday the deal will see Ottawa earmark $40 billion to the matter. $20 billion will go to compensate those children and family members impacted.

The agreement states First Nations children who were removed from their homes between April 1, 1991, and Mar. 21, 2022, are set to be compensated, along with their parents and caregivers.

Any child, living on or off a reserve, who were deprived of essential services from the government from 1991 to 2017, will also be compensated.

Ottawa says this also includes those affected by what it calls the government’s narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle between Dec. 12, 2007, and Nov. 2, 2017, as well as children who were unable to access an essential public service or product from April 1, 1991, to Dec. 11, 2007.

Jordan’s Principle is a measure stipulating that jurisdictional disputes should not get in the way of providing services to First Nations children.

The government says final settlement agreements must still be negotiated over the coming months.

An additional $20 billion will be allocated to long-term improvements to the system over five years.

The announcement was met with relief, and some hope by many speakers at Tuesday’s virtual announcement.

The Office of the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse thanked those who have worked tirelessly for decades to bring this to light.

But Woodhouse says, “we have a long way to go.”

Woodhouse says it’s an important step to make sure that “today is about acknowledgement about being seen and heard,” as many Canadians have only recently learned of the horrors of the impacts of residential schools, as well as the ongoing systemic issues within the child welfare system.

The agreement comes 14 years after a human rights challenge was launched. The case has been a major sore point in reconciliation efforts with Indigenous peoples in Canada, as both the former and current federal governments spent millions of dollars fighting it in court.

The battle began in 2007 when the First Nations Children and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint arguing chronic underfunding of child welfare services on reserve was discriminatory when compared to services provided by provincial governments to kids off reserve.

Following multiple unsuccessful court challenges and appeals by the former Conservative government, the complaint was heard by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2013 and 2014.

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children.

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