Agreement reached on Indigenous child welfare compensation

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A compensation agreement has been reached and signed off by all parties to settle a long-standing dispute over the Indigenous child welfare system, CBC News has learned.

Sources close to the negotiations told CBC News the agreement was reached Friday to settle compensation claims related to a landmark Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on Indigenous child welfare compensation.

The parties to the dispute, which include the federal government on one side and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on the other, agreed to negotiate until a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.

The sources spoke to CBC News on condition of confidentiality because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The dispute revolves around federal funding for the child welfare system on reserves.

It started in 2007, when the AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal alleging that the system was flawed and discriminated against First Nations children. The tribunal issued a decision in 2016 concluding that the federal government did discriminate against First Nations children by under-funding the on-reserve child welfare system.

WATCH | Cindy Blackstock discusses negotiations with the federal government:

Feds pause litigation on Indigenous child welfare case in hopes to reach deal

Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and one of the key figures squaring off against the feds, says “if sitting down and talking to them will work, great. If not, we’re going to the courtrooms again, because that’s where we’ve been successful.” 7:20

In 2019, the tribunal ordered Ottawa to pay $40,000 — the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act — to each child, along with their primary guardian, who attended on-reserve child welfare system from at least Jan. 1, 2006, to a date to be determined by the tribunal.

The tribunal also directed the federal government to pay $40,000 to each First Nations child, along with their primary guardian, who was denied services or forced to leave home to access services covered by the policy known as Jordan’s Principle.

The AFN estimates some 54,000 children and their families could qualify for compensation.

A federal court upheld that decision this year. The government appealed, but that appeal was put on pause while the parties tried to strike an agreement outside of court.

The parties indicated that if a deal isn’t finalized by the end of December, they could be heading back to court. Friday’s agreement suggests an appeal is now unlikely.

Details of Friday’s out-of-court settlement were not immediately made public.

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This 2016 images shows children playing at a playground in Attawapiskat First Nation. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

In its recent economic statement, issued earlier this month, the federal government earmarked $40 billion for First Nations child welfare. The government set aside the money to cover the cost of settling a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order and class action lawsuits related to the on-reserve First Nations child welfare system, and to fund long-term reforms to the system.

A joint press conference with all parties is expected to be held on Tuesday, where details will be provided, the sources said.

Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, chaired the discussions between the federal government and child-welfare advocates. The former senator is a highly respected voice on matters of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The government previously credited Sinclair with keeping the talks from falling apart.

WATCH | Marc Miller addresses Indigenous child welfare compensation:

Miller addresses Indigenous child welfare compensation

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller responds to questions about the government’s plan to address Indigenous child welfare compensation. CBC News has learned the federal government is setting aside $40 billion in its fall economic update and that will be announced on Dec. 14. 1:36

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