Sep 30, 2021 - World

Canada court rules government must compensate Indigenous children

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits the makeshift memorial for indigenous children whose remains were found at a boarding school in British Columbia

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits a makeshift memorial on Parliament Hill in Ottawa honoring 215 Indigenous children found dead at a boarding school in British Columbia. Photo: Dave Chan/AFP via Getty Images

Canada's Federal Court on Wednesday upheld a human rights tribunal ruling ordering the government to compensate First Nations children who faced discrimination in the welfare system.

Why it matters: The ruling clears the way for billions of dollars in compensation for affected Indigenous families. It's the latest breakthrough in a yearslong battle for justice for Canada's Indigenous peoples.

Context: The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in 2016 that the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children by underfunding Indigenous family services. The policy saw many Indigenous children pushed into foster care.

  • 52.2% of children in foster care in 2016 were Indigenous, despite them making up only 7.7% of Canada's child population.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in 2019 the government would appeal the tribunal ruling that year ordering it to pay the maximum fine under Canadian law of C$40,000 ($31,000) for each child removed from their home to "make sure we're getting compensation right," the Guardian notes.

What they found: "No one can seriously doubt that First Nations people are among the most disadvantaged and marginalized members of Canadian society," Federal Court Justice Paul Favel said in his ruling rejecting the Canadian government's appeal.

  • "The tribunal was aware of this and reasonably attempted to remedy the discrimination while being attentive to the very different positions of the parties," Favel added.
  • The judge said the parties in the case must now "decide whether they will continue to sit beside the trail or move forward in this spirit of reconciliation."

What to watch: The Canadian government could still appeal the ruling — something Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which launched the human rights complaint that led to the ruling, along with the Assembly of First Nations, implored Trudeau not to do.

What they're saying: Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told CBC News the government "needs time to review the decision before deciding" whether to appeal the ruling.

The big picture: The ruling came the day before Canada's first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which honors Indigenous children who survived or died after being removed from families to attend state-funded residential schools run by the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations.

  • Many of the roughly 150,000 children from 1883 to 1996 were forced to "assimilate" into white Canadian society by attending the schools. They faced neglect and abuse in what Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined in 2015 was a "cultural genocide."
  • Hundreds of unmarked graves have been found on the former school sites in recent months.
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