The Canadian government asked the country’s federal court of appeal Friday to overturn a landmark decision awarding billions in compensation to indigenous children, announcing it would instead seek to negotiate a deal.
Canada has said it believes the payments are necessary, but would rather iron out the details in talks. The money is meant to compensate for indigenous children who were removed from their families and placed in foster care.
In its notice of appeal, Ottawa said it “acknowledges the finding of systemic discrimination and does not oppose the general principle that compensation to First Nations individuals who experienced pain and suffering as a result of government misconduct should be provided.”
But it balked at the blanket compensation, or what Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller described as “a one size fits all approach.”
Advocates for indigenous children expressed disappointment over the government’s appeal in the 14-year legal saga.
Canada’s federal court last month found that the government had discriminated against some 50,000 children by not properly funding child and family services in indigenous communities, upholding a prior decision by a human rights tribunal.
It ordered the government to pay each Can$40,000 (US$30,000).
At a news conference, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said that two advocacy groups, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations, have both agreed to sit down with officials to try to hammer out a negotiated deal by the end of December.
Ottawa “will compensate those harmed by discriminatory underfunding (of services) so that we can mend these past wrongs,” she said.
Miller said there was a “significant financial package” on offer, but declined to provide details, except to say that it would expand compensation to children who may not be covered by the human rights tribunal decision.
The talks would also touch on reforms of the child welfare system.
“We know and indigenous peoples know that to fix this problem, it’s going to cost billions of dollars,” Miller added. “We can’t shy away from that fact.”
The developments come against a backdrop of reconciliation efforts by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
Indigenous communities are still reeling from recent discoveries of more than 1,200 unmarked graves at former residential schools that indigenous children were once forced to attend under a policy of assimilation.