The House of Commons has unanimously passed a motion that calls on the federal government to comply with a human-rights tribunal ruling to end Ottawa’s discriminatory practices against First Nations children.
The move puts pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to drop its appeal in Federal Court of a decision ordering it to compensate Indigenous children taken into care unnecessarily.
The motion was put forward on Wednesday by NDP Indigenous youth critic Charlie Angus, who also pointed to the case of Devon Freeman, a 16-year-old from the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation who died by suicide.
Mr. Freeman’s body was found last year nearly seven months after he went missing, no more than 35 metres from his group home, lawyers for Mr. Freeman’s First Nation and his grandmother say.
Mr. Freeman’s “horrifying” case exemplifies systemic discrimination in child welfare that has resulted in much tragedy, Mr. Angus said in an interview, adding his story is nothing short of a national tragedy. He said it is symbolic of the “staggering level of negligence that children that end up in the system face."
Mr. Angus held a feather and shook as he spoke on the issue earlier in the House of Commons.
First Nations families lose their children “all the time” to what the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled to be willful and reckless discrimination and systemic underfunding by the federal government, Mr. Angus said.
“To this Prime Minister, stop with the honey-dripped words and call off the lawyers.”
Mr. Angus was referring to a decision by the federal government to seek a judicial review of September findings from the tribunal that ordered Ottawa to provide up to $40,000 each to First Nations children who were unnecessarily taken into care on or after Jan. 1, 2006. The orders also cover parents or grandparents and children denied essential services.
In response to Mr. Angus, Mr. Trudeau said the Liberal government wants to ensure that Indigenous people harmed under the discriminatory child-welfare system are compensated in a way that is fair and timely.
“We want to work with all parties to address this issue,” he said. “We’ve demonstrated our commitment to addressing long-standing child and family service needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.”
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Wednesday the government supported the NDP motion because it shares the same goal of adequately compensating First Nations children who have been discriminated against over decades, adding his deputy minister will speak to the parties in the tribunal case to develop proposals on distributing compensation.
In Federal Court, the government has laid out that it believes the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is wrong in law and that is why it requested the judicial review.
Mr. Miller also said Wednesday the government is moving along with a parallel process on classifying a separate class action on Indigenous child welfare.
During the election campaign, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer urged the government to seek a judicial review.
Sarah Clarke, the lawyer representing the Chippewas of Georgina Island, located on Lake Simcoe, is also working on the human-rights tribunal case.
She thanked Mr. Angus for asking Mr. Trudeau about Mr. Freeman and the First Nations victims of the “discriminatory child-welfare program.”
Mr. Freeman’s community and his grandmother are urging the Ontario Coroner’s Office to call an inquest into Mr. Freeman’s death.
The Assembly of First Nations and organizations such as the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres have written letters to the office in support of holding an inquest.
The office of the chief coroner said Tuesday a decision was made not to launch a discretionary inquest into Mr. Freeman’s death, but the family has asked for the decision to be reconsidered.