First Nations children and their families have been waiting for 13 long years to be compensated for being unnecessarily taken into the child-welfare system, a lawyer representing the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, told the Federal Court on Tuesday.
“What we are urging you to do, your honour, is to listen to the voices in this room that represent the victims,” Sarah Clarke said to Federal Court Justice Paul Favel. “Listen to what they are asking for.”
The federal government has asked the court to push pause on an order from a human rights tribunal to set up a compensation process. It is also seeking a judicial review from the Federal Court of the order from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which in September told Ottawa to pay compensation of up to $40,000 to those who were unnecessarily taken into care on or after Jan. 1, 2006.
The tribunal said the government recklessly and willfully discriminated against First Nations children, and the compensation order applied to parents or grandparents as well as children denied essential services. It also gave parties in the case until Dec. 10 to develop a plan to distribute the compensation.
Ms. Clarke said the government hasn’t explained why it can’t sit down to talk about a process of compensation.
Justice Department chief general counsel Robert Frater said in closing arguments that the tribunal’s order amounts to an “unnecessarily invasive piece of surgery by the wrong doctors.”
Mr. Frater has argued the findings are wrong in law and that the mandated process for discussing compensation outlined by the tribunal is too restrictive.
“This case is about more than emotion,” he said. “It is about getting the compensation question right."
The government wants the Federal Court to take a second look at the tribunal’s decision to determine if it is the right way, he added.
On Monday, the Trudeau government announced it supports an attempt to certify a separate lawsuit as a class action. It also pointed to its previous successes settling class actions in similar cases, including the 1960s scoop, the Indian day schools and residential schools.
Justice Favel reserved his decision.
First Nations child advocate Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the Caring Society, said Ottawa refuses to accept responsibility for the way it treats children and resists the appropriate compensation they deserve.
“The answer is for them to stop their discrimination and do the right thing for kids,” she said outside the courtroom.
Indian day school survivor Patricia Stacey, who presented Ms. Blackstock with a song outside the courtroom, said on Tuesday she wanted to come to the proceedings because she knows what it is like be a child who is “damaged and nobody listens.”
Ms. Stacey, whose Mohawk name, Kaniente, means “she’s here for a purpose," urged Mr. Trudeau to do right by First Nations children at the heart of the case and to listen to them.
“Just get it over with," she said, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Do what you have to do for these children."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has urged Mr. Trudeau’s government to drop its request for a judicial review, said on Tuesday the issue comes down to justice.
“The result of that discrimination is not just an academic argument,” Mr. Singh said. “Kids have died. Kids have died because the government has not funded kids equally.”