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Lawsuit launched against feds

Case involves discrimination against First Nations children

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. —

A class action lawsuit has been launched against the federal government relating to compensation for systematic discrimination against First Nations children.

The suit, launched by Sotos LLP (Toronto) and Kugler Kandestin LLP (Montreal), seeks $3.05 billion in damages for First Nations youth, both on- and off-reserve, who have been subject to discrimination by the federal government of Canada since 1991.

According to the Statement of Claim filed with the courts on March 4, the discrimination has taken two forms.

The first allegation is the Crown has knowingly underfunded child and family services for First Nations children living on reserve and in the Yukon.

“This underfunding has prevented child welfare service agencies from providing adequate Prevention Services to First Nations children,” the statement reads. “The underfunding persists despite the heightened need for such services on reserve due to the inter-generational trauma inflicted on First Nations peoples by the legacy of the Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop, and despite numerous calls to action by several official, independent fact-finders.”

The statement says the Crown has known about the severe inadequacies of its funding formulas, policies, and practices for years, but has not adequately addressed them. It says the chronic underfunding of First Nations Child and Family Services has led to epidemic numbers of First Nations youth being removed from their homes and communities and placed into out-of-home care, referred to in the claim as the ‘Millennial Scoop.’

“This practice has created an incentive on the part of First Nations child welfare service agencies to remove First Nations children living on reserve and in the Yukon from their homes and place them in out-of-home care” the statement reads. “Because of these funding formulas, policies, and practices, a child on reserve must often be removed from their home in order to receive public services that are available to children off reserve.”

 The second claim is that government's ‘failure to honour and abide by Jordan's Principle has resulted in tens of thousands of First Nations youth being denied necessary services and products due to bureaucratic wrangling over which level of government (federal or provincial) or which department within the federal government will cover the costs.’

Jordan’s Principle is a needs-based principle passed by the federal government in 2007 that was to ensure First Nations children living on and off reserve have equitable access to all government funded services.

“Jordan’s Principle is admitted by the Crown to be a “legal requirement” on it and thus a duty that carries civil consequences,” according to the statement of claim. “However, the Crown has essentially ignored Jordan’s Principle and thereby denied crucial services and products to tens of thousands of First Nations children in breach of Jordan’s Principle.”

In the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal landmark decision of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada et al. v. Canada, it said both practices constitute systemic discrimination against First Nations youth, contrary to section 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

"This class action provides a clear and pressing opportunity for this government to demonstrate its true commitment to these principles, to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to the goals of reconciliation with First Nations,” David Sterns, counsel for the class, said.

For more information on the suit visit here.

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