Ottawa to file court challenge on tribunal’s decision to reject $20B child-welfare deal

The federal government will seek judicial review of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's decision rejecting Ottawa's $20-billion offer to settle a class-action lawsuit over the chronic underfunding of the on-reserve child welfare system.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller told reporters Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa the Liberals want "clarity" on how to address the parts of the deal the tribunal rejected.

"We'll be continuing to work with the parties to compensate children that were removed and harmed, but also today filed a judicial review to have the court look at some of the aspects of the settlement agreement that were not accepted," Hajdu said.

"We do have some disagreements over some elements of the judgment, and, for that reason, we are filing an appeal," added Miller.

The Assembly of First Nations executive committee passed a motion Wednesday backing a judicial review of the same decision to speed up the process of delivering compensation, according to an AFN source who spoke on the condition they not be named.

Last week AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse said the AFN hadn't "ruled out anything" when asked if the assembly was mulling a court challenge, while the government refused to say what their plans were.

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The deal, announced in January and signed in June, pledged to compensate victims of the discriminatory First Nations child-welfare system, but the entire pact was "conditional" on the tribunal declaring a pre-existing compensation order from 2019 fulfilled.

In an Oct. 24 letter decision, the tribunal said the proposed settlement substantially covered its standing order, but refused to declare it fulfilled because some children included by its compensation ruling would be left out of the class-action settlement.

Anyone directly affected by a federal tribunal order or decision can challenge that decision through judicial review "within 30 days after the time the decision or order was first communicated," according to Canada's Federal Court.

The case dates to 2007 when the AFN and Cindy Blackstock filed a human rights complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In a landmark 2016 decision, the tribunal found Canada's funding practices were racist and constituted systematic human rights violations, a decision which was never challenged.

The tribunal said this racial discrimination was "wilful and reckless" in 2019 when it issued an order for Canada to pay the statutory maximum of $40,000 to each victim and certain family members, which was judicially reviewed last year.

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