On Tuesday, Canada announced two agreements worth a total of $31.5 billion (40 billion Canadian dollars) to compensate First Nations children who were taken from their families and placed in the child welfare system, as well as to reform the system that took them away from their families and denied them access to needed services.
The agreements include a $15.7 billion (20 billion Canadian dollar) payment for hundreds of thousands of First Nations children who were taken from their homes, who did not receive services, or who received services late. Over the next five years, another $15.7 billion will be spent on system improvement.
The settlements come nearly 15 years after a human rights complaint was filed by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has determined that child and family services discriminate against First Nations children, in part because services on reserves are underfunded. To receive those services, children were removed from their homes and transported off-reserve.
Canada agreed that its procedures were discriminatory, but it has consistently battled orders to pay compensation and fund reforms, including a recent appeal.
The compensation agreement also seeks to resolve a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of First Nations children.
Justice Minister David Lametti said Tuesday that once the agreements are formalised in the coming months, the government will dismiss their appeals.
The reform agreement includes $1,966.50 in preventive care per kid ($2,500 in Canadian dollars) and options for children in foster care to receive support beyond the age of 18.
According to Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, funding geared at reform and preventive programmes should begin coming in April, but it may not solve the deep-rooted issues that the First Nations community faces.
“I see it as words on paper,” she told Reuters. “I judge victory when I can walk into a community and a child is able to say to me, ‘My life is better than it was yesterday.’ Nothing in these words actually changes children’s lives until it’s implemented.”
During a press conference, lawyer David Sterns, who represents affected First Nations children and families, stated that this would be the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history.
“The enormity of this settlement is due to one reason, and one reason only. And that is the sheer scope of the harm inflicted on class members,” he said.