Two Indigenous adults formerly under care in Alberta and a foster parent are part of a proposed class-action lawsuit against the provincial and federal governments, claiming Alberta has misappropriated a federal benefit to offset child-welfare funding.
The law firm representing the plaintiffs said the lawsuit could build on success in Manitoba, where a judge ruled in May, 2022, that the province violated the rights of Indigenous children in care by clawing back a federal benefit called the Children’s Special Allowance (CSA).
The statement of claim alleges that Alberta has treated the CSA as a federal transfer and denied vulnerable children the financial benefit since 1993.
Chief Ivan Sawan of Loon River Cree First Nation told a press conference on Monday that denying children the CSA constitutes discrimination. Indigenous youth are vastly overrepresented in Alberta’s child-welfare system, representing about 70 per cent of children in care despite making up roughly 10 per cent of the provincial youth population.
“The hypocrisy that Alberta is considered the guardian who must act in the best interest of these children, while stealing from them, cannot be overlooked,” Mr. Sawan said.
“Every day these children are denied of their benefits is unacceptable.”
Alberta’s Ministry of Children and Family Services said in a statement that it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter before the courts. The class action must be approved by a judge before it can proceed.
The statement of claim says the federal government is also named in the proposed class action because it had a duty to ensure the CSA benefit was being distributed consistently throughout the provinces and territories. “At all material times, Canada was or ought to have been aware of Alberta’s misappropriation of the CSA Benefits but stood silent.”
The federal Department of National Revenue, in a statement, said the Canada Revenue Agency is responsible for providing payments of CSA and the Child Disability Benefit to federal, provincial and territorial agencies. “However, the CRA is not responsible for the administration of these funds,” it said.
Monthly CSA payments are calculated to be $620 for children under 6 and $523 for youth aged 6 to 17. An additional $264 can be given for children with disabilities.
Lawyer Kris Saxberg, who is handling the case, said the financial benefit is intended for extras that would benefit the child but that might not be covered otherwise, such as music lessons, sports or dental work.
However, the statement of claim alleges that Alberta applies for the CSA benefit on behalf of children in its care and then puts that money into its general revenue fund “for uses other than being applied exclusively toward the care, maintenance, education, training or advancement of the child in respect of whom it is paid.”
Grand Chief Arthur Noskey of Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta said the province’s child-services system is causing significant harm to Indigenous children and their families, building on the atrocities of the residential-school system.
“The work before us as First Nations is to heal the spirit of our children. Our youth and families were healthy and strong families before government interference,” Mr. Noskey said at the press conference. “We need to be warriors again and, today, we have two youth and a guardian giving us a great example of fighting for our First Nations children’s rights.”
Plaintiffs Sierra Clarke, 21, and Octavian Laboucan, 20, were under the care of Alberta as youth.
Clarke, whose home is the Tallcree First Nation, had approximately 14 placements while in care. Just before turning 18, they were forced to leave one home because the family could no longer afford care, the statement of claim said. They wanted to travel to see extended family and partake in singing lessons and sports but didn’t have the means to do so.
Mr. Laboucan, whose home is Whitefish Lake First Nation, was not allowed to take part in extracurricular activities while in care because of limited funding.
The statement of claim said both plaintiffs were denied access to the CSA.