First Nations talks on child well-being bring “significant progress” towards a changed regime
The Canadian government and First Nations Assembly report “significant progress” in revising a proposed $20 billion settlement package for victims of the chronically underfunded Reserve Child Welfare System, court documents say.
All parties in the ongoing class action lawsuit “have agreed on a path to an amended FSA [final settlement agreement]”Following two days of confidential talks in Ottawa last week, according to a letter filed in federal court on Friday.
The amended deal remains conditional and has yet to be worked out, wrote David Sterns, a class-action attorney at Sotos LLP, who asked for more time to iron out the details.
“We will endeavor to address the requirements and finalize the drafting over the next few weeks,” Sterns wrote.
When contacted Monday, he said confidentiality prevented him from giving more details.
A spokesman for the Minister for Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, also declined to elaborate on the content of the amended agreement, but reiterated the promise to compensate those injured.
“We are committed to seeing this through,” wrote communications director Andrew MacKendrick.
The deal, first announced early last year, was mired in uncertainty when Canada’s Human Rights Court rejected it.
The lawsuit was filed in 2019 by Xavier Moushoom, an Anishinaabe man from Lac-Simon, Que., but it covers much the same ground as a long-standing human rights complaint against Canada before the tribunal.
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The AFN and Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, filed the complaint in 2007. The AFN joined the Moushoom class action in 2020.
Blackstock, who sat at the table last week, has pushed for an extension of the class action “opt-out period,” during which potential plaintiffs can choose not to be included in the settlement. The parties agreed to postpone this to August from Feb. 19, Stern’s letter said.
“The extension of the opt-out is important because it means children and families who are entitled to compensation need to see what they are entitled to under a revised FSA,” Blackstock said via text message Monday.
“It is impossible to make this decision as the FSA is still ongoing.”
Manitoba regional director Cindy Woodhouse could not be reached for comment Monday on behalf of the AFN.
The Human Rights Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body created by federal human rights laws, sided with Blackstock and the AFN in 2016. It found that Canada’s underfunding of child and family services in the Reserves and Yukon constituted illegal racial discrimination.
In 2019, the court found the discrimination was “premeditious and reckless,” and awarded each victim and some family members the legal maximum of $40,000. But Canada is refusing to pay that order, which was upheld in federal court, a decision Ottawa is appealing.
The federal Liberals instead vowed to initiate an umbrella settlement through the class action lawsuit, but the tribunal said the settlement excludes some children who are entitled to compensation under the 2019 order and falls short.
In December, the tribunal ruled in writing that Hajdu and the AFN misled the public by not disclosing this. The AFN and Hajdu both filed court challenges to the tribunal’s decision, but these cases have not gone to court.
Meanwhile, also in December, the AFN brought the issue up for debate at its meeting of chiefs in Ottawa. There, chiefs took a united front, directing the AFN to require Ottawa to pay a “minimum amount of $20 billion” immediately and ensure no one is left out.
The parties are asking the court for permission to report on their progress until March 1.