The federal government has been ordered to reimburse tens of thousands of First Nations children who were harmed by or denied of essential family services – after a landmark ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) on Friday morning.
"Canada’s conduct was willful and reckless resulting in what we have referred to as a worst-case scenario under our Act," the CHRT stated.
The tribunal ruled that Canada must reimburse each of the more than 50,000 children apprehended or denied welfare services with $40,000 – the maximum amount allowable under the CHRT.
Compensation also applies to the parents or grandparents of the children apprehended on or after January 1, 2006, following Canada’s implementation of Jordan’s Principle.
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"This is about our children, their safety, their right to be with their families, kin and communities and their right to quality of care. No government should be fighting these fundamental values," Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a follow-up press release.
Jordan’s Principle was first implemented in 2007 by the federal government to ensure First Nations children had access to public services on and off-reserve, at the same rate as other Canadian youth.
However, many human rights organizations such as the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society and Amnesty International have criticized Ottawa’s interpretation of the policy, calling it "unlawful" and "restrictive."
In 2016, the Tribunal agreed with this assessment, stating that the federal government’s application of Jordan’s Principle was in fact discriminatory.
In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, the office of Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Indigenous Services, said they’ll need time to review the order before determining immediate next steps but reaffirmed their party’s position on Indigenous issues.
"Our government has prioritized systemic reform that is focused on putting the interests of Indigenous children first. This is exactly why we co-developed transformative legislation to change the child and family services system in this country - and to enable Indigenous partners to determine what’s right for their children. We understand that there’s more work to be done, and we’re committed to it," wrote Kevin Deagle, the Minister’s press secretary.
That commitment will be tested based on how the government responds to this new ruling, Bellegarde told CTV News.
"No government should go against children, and the fundamental human rights of children,” he said. “It would send the wrong message about reconciliation and building respectful relationships if there is an appeal."