First Nations Chiefs Endorse $23 Billion Settlement for Harmed Children and Families:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Thunder Bay
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Thunder Bay

OTTAWA – The Assembly of First Nations has endorsed a revised multi-billion-dollar settlement for children and families harmed by Ottawa’s underfunding of on-reserve child and family services. The new deal includes an additional $3 billion from Ottawa and increases the total compensation package to $23 billion. Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, addressed chiefs and stated that she hopes this settlement marks the final step in the battle First Nations children have been waging. The assembly and Blackstock’s organization had jointly launched the 2007 human-rights complaint that sparked the years-long legal battle with Ottawa.

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of the claimants’ position that Ottawa’s underfunding of on-reserve child welfare services amounted to discrimination. The tribunal also agreed that Ottawa too narrowly applied Jordan’s Principle, which holds that First Nations children should not be denied access to public services. Two class-action lawsuits, including one filed by the Assembly of First Nations, were brought against Ottawa.

Last year, Ottawa agreed to spend $20 billion on reforming the child-welfare system and another $20 billion on compensation. The historic deal was thrown into question after the tribunal rejected the proposed settlement, stating concerns that not all eligible claimants would receive the $40,000 in compensation.

Further negotiations have resulted in a revised settlement agreement that would include compensation for 13,000 more children and other amendments that it felt would satisfy the tribunal’s concerns.

Included in the additional $3 billion parties secured from Ottawa was $1 billion to fund interest accumulated on the $40,000 payments. Children won’t receive compensation until they reach the age of majority, and until then, their money will be placed in a trust. The proposed new settlement must be brought before the tribunal for approval, and then receive another green light from the Federal Court.

In their endorsement vote, First Nations chiefs also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make a “formal and meaningful” apology to the plaintiffs and victims. The proposed settlement, if approved, will be the largest ever settled by Canada, and funds will start to flow shortly thereafter.

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