The fate of $20 billion compensation for First Nations children at the hands of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal


Tens of thousands of First Nations children and caregivers are waiting for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to determine whether Ottawa’s $20 billion offer to compensate them for discrimination meets its human rights orders. the person.

The panel reserved its decision on Friday after hearing arguments over two days for and against the landmark settlement agreement.

« It’s not even close to the losses we’ve had over time, » Carolyn Buffalo, a Montana First Nation mother in Maskwacis, Alta., said in an interview with CBC News.

Buffalo has had to fight a bureaucratic battle with Ottawa throughout the life of his son, Noah Buffalo-Jackson, who is now 20. He suffers from severe cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock care.

« I had to fight for basic things, like wheelchairs, that other people would definitely get, » Buffalo said.

« We didn’t ask for anything more. All we wanted was what the other kids had. »

Buffalo fears her son will be harmed again because the settlement agreement reached between the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations does not guarantee him the same amount of compensation that other children would receive.

WATCH | Canadian Human Rights Tribunal concludes hearings on $20 billion settlement:

Growing Calls to Renegotiate Ottawa’s Historic $20 Billion First Nations Child Welfare Agreement

Indigenous child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock is among a growing number of activists calling on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to renegotiate Ottawa’s landmark $20 billion child protection agreement. First Nations childhood. Critics argue that too many people are included in the compensation package, which could leave some victims of discrimination with less than they deserve.

In 2019, the court ordered Canada to pay the maximum penalty under the Canadian Human Rights Act: $40,000 to each First Nations child and caregiver who is denied essential services – under a policy known as Jordan’s Principle – like the Buffalo family.

He also called on the government to pay $40,000 to each child affected by the on-reserve foster care system and their parents or grandparents, as the children were not being cared for due to abuse.

Instead of paying compensation the way the orders are worded, the government brokered a deal with the Assembly of First Nations, which was suing Ottawa for $10 billion to compensate a group of unprotected children and families. subject to court orders.

The settlement agreement they finalized in July is the largest in Canadian history. It covers children and families discriminated against from 1991 – 15 years longer than court orders.

« We were able to make a good decision and expand it, » Stuart Wuttke, general counsel for the Assembly of First Nations, said during Thursday’s hearing.

« A large number of children will receive more compensation and will be entitled to compensation than this court has ordered. »

Worry compensation program will spread too thin

But the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society says the deal waters down the human rights tribunal’s decision.

“There has to be another way,” said Sarah Clarke, an attorney representing the Caring Society, during Friday’s hearing.

« We couldn’t go this far and recognize the rights of some only for an outside process to dictate how it’s going to end. »

The Caring Society and the AFN filed a human rights complaint against Ottawa in 2007 for underfunding the on-reserve child welfare system.

In a statement to CBC News, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, right, and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said they remained committed to ensuring children and families are fairly compensated for past damages. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

In 2016, the court found that Ottawa had discriminated against First Nations children and said Canada’s actions had resulted in « trauma and harm at the highest level » and issued its orders compensation in 2019.

The settlement agreement guarantees at least $40,000 to each First Nations child living on reserve who has been forcibly removed from their home, depending on the severity of the harm they have suffered. on the reservation, who were driven from their homes.

But he can’t make the same promise to other families, like the Buffalos, who might receive less.

« The $20 billion seems like a lot, » Buffalo said. « But it’s really not because the class is so big. »

Apologize to the Prime Minister

Along with additional compensation, Buffalo said she wants the Prime Minister to apologize for all the losses suffered by his family and others.

« I want the Prime Minister to look Noah in the eye and say, ‘I’m sorry,' » Buffalo said.

« Nobody ever apologized to us. »

A memorial is displayed on Parliament Hill, as ceremonies take place for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa on September 30, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller declined interviews with CBC News.

But in a statement, they said the compensation structure was designed by Indigenous partners and « reflects their experiences with other compensation programs. »

« We remain committed to ensuring children and families are fairly compensated for past harms, » ​​the statement said.

Buffalo said she will not back down and will continue to fight for her son, whom she calls the joy of her family’s life.

« Noah is worth everything, » Buffalo said.

« We really feel blessed that he chose us to be his parents and I just hope we are good enough for him because he is so special. »


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