Canada Appeals Decision on Compensation for Indigenous Children

On Friday, Justin Trudeau’s government filed an appeal against a bill that would require compensation for indigenous children harmed by Canada’s discriminatory welfare system. The Canadian human rights tribunal has argued that the Canadian government has discriminated against First Nations children, those who live on and off reserves. The human rights tribunal says that the government removed children from family welfare in their communities and replaced that healthcare with a government-run program, which has been accused of being discriminatory. The tribunal ordered Trudeau’s government to pay compensation for First Nations children, parents, and grandchildren, but the government appealed the ruling, perpetuating a decades-long debate over welfare compensation. However, the Canadian government says it will pause the appeal to engage in talks with the indigenous community outside the courtroom. 

Canadian indigenous people have a history of fighting for their rights. In 2019, the human rights tribunal called for a reform to the welfare policy and at least $40,000 in compensation for discriminatory actions that endangered indigenous children and families. The current federal government, led by the Liberal Party in Canada, has had a difficult relationship with indigenous peoples, and the decision to appeal compensation for FN children has created more tension. Trudeau’s government, however, has become more committed to protecting indigenous rights, and the decision to engage in talks with the community signifies growing respect between the two groups. According to Reuters, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu believes that the talks will encourage a more “equitable system, a compassionate system.” Hajdu, along with Attorney General David Lemetti, released a statement saying that both sides were committed to “fair, equitable compensation to First Nations children on-reserve” and supported reform of the FN Child and Family service program that would provide infrastructure to support welfare for children and families. 

Governments around the world have always had excuses for why they cannot provide human rights for indigenous people. In Canada, indigenous groups have expressed their outrage at the government’s actions concerning laws, treatment, and discriminatory policies that affect First Nations children. Compensation for these welfare policies is vital to ensuring equality for indigenous people within the Canadian government, and it is reassuring that the government is willing to have conversations about compensation. However, as federal leaders and human rights representatives discuss how much money to give out, FN children and families are still struggling without proper welfare. The health and equality of human beings should be the priority for the government and human rights tribune. 

In May of 2021, the remains of 215 children were found at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia. More remains were found at other similar sites and even more are currently being uncovered. Trudeau’s Liberal Party has taken some steps to reconcile with indigenous communities, but as more time passes, political pressure for action is waning, making it unlikely that there will be more federal action. This lack of transparency and reconciliation has created a difficult relationship between the government and indigenous groups, a relationship that was already rocky because of issues like the discriminatory child and family services. The Canadian government’s current decision to appeal the court-ordered compensation in favor of settlement talks signifies the possibility of better communication and a stronger relationship between the two sides. 

Since the federal government decided to appeal the Canadian federal court’s ruling, upholding compensation for First Nations children affected by discriminatory welfare services, and begin settlement talks, both sides have been vocal about the possibility for positive change from these discussions. However, Canada’s difficult relationship with its indigenous population presents inherent mistrust. And, as the two sides deliberate over how much money is enough for compensation, those who have been hurt by the lack of welfare are still at risk. Governments have a responsibility to protect the welfare of all their citizens, and the deliberation over compensation signifies a hopeful change in the way Canada treats its indigenous population. While First Nations children and families in Canada begin the process of receiving compensation for welfare, nations beyond Canada should consider whether native people are given equal human rights. As Canada’s government has proven, talking with these communities might be the first step to reconciliation and justice.