Tribunal says $40B child-welfare agreement doesn’t satisfy all orders

By The Canadian Press and Hana Mae Nassar

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) says a $40 billion child welfare settlement agreement the federal government reached with First Nations doesn’t meet all the requirements of the tribunal’s orders.

The panel is urging the parties to continue negotiating in a decision released Tuesday.

Justice Minister David Lametti says there were a number of affirmations in the summary about positive points in the agreement.

“Again, I point out that Indigenous leadership led the process and so let’s wait and hear from all the partners in that process and let’s wait until we get the final decision and then let’s see where … the weak points are according to the CHRT and let’s see what we can do about them,” he said.

Assembly of First Nations regional chief Cindy Woodhouse says she’s frustrated the CHRT has stalled negotiations with the federal government, adding parties were advised of the tribunal’s direction late Monday night.

“A late-stage intervention by the Caring Society and Cindy Blackstock has not only delayed compensation reaching our communities but also disrupts the process of allocating an additional $19.8 billion that will help us reform the First Nations Child and Family Services program in our communities,” she said.

“I’m deeply frustrated. It’s a sad day for the many First Nations families that their long wait for compensation and acknowledgement is going to continue,” Woodhouse added.

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In 2019, the tribunal ordered Ottawa to compensate children and families three years after ruling that the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children for years by not properly funding child welfare services on reserves.

The federal government, the Assembly of First Nations, and lawyers for two related class-action lawsuits, announced a deal to pay that compensation in January.

It initially awarded $40,000 to each child and their families who suffered.

However, the tribunal is concerned with the timeline claimants have to opt-out of the compensation and whether all children will receive the full amount.

“There’s disappointment. This was a compensation plan designed by First Nations people for First Nations people in a culturally specific way. My commitment to those partners is that we’ll be with them for the long haul to get to an agreement,” Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu said after the CHRT’s latest direction.

“There is a continued commitment to First Nations to make sure that we satisfy both aspects of these historic agreements, by the way, and agreements that our First Nations partners have worked incredibly hard at arriving at.”

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