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An affidavit containing the multibillion-dollar estimate sheds additional light on Ottawa’s contentious decision to file an application for a judicial review of tribunal findings on Indigenous children removed from their families.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The federal government estimates that implementing an order from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations child welfare could cost nearly $8-billion if a compensation process lingers until 2025-26.

An affidavit containing the multibillion-dollar estimate, filed by a senior government official, sheds additional light on Ottawa’s contentious decision to file an application for a judicial review of tribunal findings on Indigenous children removed from their families.

The application, filed last Friday, sparked strong condemnation from Indigenous leaders including Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, the federal NDP and the Green Party.

It also fuelled questions of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the campaign and the extent to which he is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

For their part, the Conservatives had urged the federal government to seek a judicial review of the September tribunal finding ordering Ottawa to provide up to $40,000 to First Nations children who were unnecessarily taken into care on or after Jan. 1, 2006, as well as to parents or grandparents and children denied essential services.

In an affidavit filed in Federal Court on Oct. 3, Sony Perron, the associate deputy minister of Indigenous Services Canada, said the government’s issue is not whether discrimination identified by the tribunal existed.

Canada has “accepted that result and is addressing it," he said, adding the tribunal issued a “sweeping decision” that raises important questions of public policy that only the federal cabinet can decide.

Implementing the tribunal order would cost between $5-billion and $6-billion if compensation was paid out by 2020, he said, saying it could cost much more if the time period is extended.

“It is estimated that satisfying the entire Order could cost up to $7.9-billion depending on the final percentage of children necessarily removed from care, if the compensation process continues until 2025-26,” Mr. Perron wrote.

Cost estimates are based on the current Bank of Canada interest rate and the final payout would be higher if the central bank rate should increase in the future, he said.

Mr. Perron also said his point is not to identify costs with precision, “as this is impossible at this early stage," but he said he wanted to note that “the compensation process is likely to be complex, lengthy and resource-intensive.”

“The government will continue to address the needs of children while the Federal Court assesses the Tribunal’s decision,” Mr. Perron wrote.

“I make this affidavit in support of the Attorney-General’s motion to stay the Order of the Tribunal and for no other purpose.”

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, has said the government’s decision to seek a judicial review is a disappointing signal the federal government is not accepting responsibility for the tribunal’s September finding of willful and reckless discrimination against children.

While campaigning in Saint-Anaclet, Que., last Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the government absolutely agrees there must be compensation but that the question is “how.”

The tribunal’s decision came days before the election campaign officially began, Mr. Trudeau said.

“The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal expects us to bring in a plan of action by December," he said. "That is simply not practical.”

The government’s application for a stay also indicates the government is concerned about “irreparable harm” that could be caused to Canada, adding that the “hardship” caused to the country and the public interest “significantly outweighs any harm caused by a delay in implementing the tribunal’s orders on compensation.”

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