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Advocate blasts government’s challenge of court ruling on First Nations child services

Click to play video: 'Indigenous advocate says she’s ‘flabbergasted’ at government appeal of compensation for First Nations children' Indigenous advocate says she’s ‘flabbergasted’ at government appeal of compensation for First Nations children
WATCH: Cindy Blackstock says she's 'flabbergasted' at the government's appeal of compensation for First Nations children – Oct 4, 2019

The federal government‘s decision to challenge a landmark court ruling promising billions to First Nations children and families has left one advocate vowing to continue the fight.

“We’re not going to just let Canada run roughshod over these children’s lives,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, one of the groups behind the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal complaint.

READ MORE: Trudeau government appeals ruling on compensation to First Nations children

In a ruling last month, the tribunal found that the federal government “willfully and recklessly” discriminated against children living on reserves by not properly funding child and family services. It set compensation at the maximum possible, $40,000, for those affected and their family members – meaning an overall payout in the billions.

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READ MORE: Indigenous families given $2B payout for children separated from parents by government

The federal government’s lawyers filed an application seeking a judicial review of the tribunal’s decision on Friday, which left Blackstock flabbergasted.

“I just think if my organization was found to be willfully, recklessly discriminating against little kids in ways that contribute to their deaths and their family separations, my first reaction wouldn’t be to appeal the decision,” she said. “My first reaction would be to move heaven and earth to make sure it’s not continuing and to make sure that I made proper reparations to those families in whatever way I could.”

Click to play video: 'Indigenous advocate says stay of ruling could mean Ottawa decides if compensation happens' Indigenous advocate says stay of ruling could mean Ottawa decides if compensation happens
Indigenous advocate says stay of ruling could mean Ottawa decides if compensation happens – Oct 4, 2019

The government wants the tribunal’s ruling to be set aside and the claim for monetary compensation to be dismissed. Alternatively, it wants the ruling set aside, or stayed, and the case referred back to the tribunal, or any other relief from the decision the court deems appropriate.

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In order for a stay pending judicial review to be granted, there’s a three-part legal test, a filing from the Attorney General explains.

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One of the criteria is whether the party seeking the stay would suffer “irreparable harm” if it was refused.

The Attorney General argued this was the case, saying that proceeding with the compensation process could result in “unrecoverable” losses for the government if the judicial review found there were problems with the tribunal’s ruling.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says government appealing ruling on compensation for First Nations children meant to give more time to ‘get it right’' Trudeau says government appealing ruling on compensation for First Nations children meant to give more time to ‘get it right’
Trudeau says government appealing ruling on compensation for First Nations children meant to give more time to ‘get it right’ – Oct 4, 2019

“They say that there is irreparable harm to Canada to pay this compensation, and to put this in perspective, the money the tribunal awarded to the children for the damages done to them is less than one per cent of Canada’s budget,” said Blackstock.

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“So I don’t know how they’re arguing that.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says deadline for plan on compensation for First Nations children ‘not practical’' Trudeau says deadline for plan on compensation for First Nations children ‘not practical’
Trudeau says deadline for plan on compensation for First Nations children ‘not practical’ – Oct 4, 2019

Both Justin Trudeau and Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan told reporters they agree with the tribunal’s finding that there must be compensation for those who were harmed, but said further consultation is needed in order to get it right.

“Those are conversations that we cannot have during a writ period,” Trudeau said.​

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Blackstock said the government claiming it’s not against compensation amounts to “misinformation” in her view.

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The application for judicial review states that “Canada acknowledges the finding of systemic discrimination and does not oppose the general principle that compensation to First Nations individuals affected by a discriminatory funding model can be made in appropriate circumstances.”

“Awarding compensation to individuals in this claim, however, was inconsistent with the nature of the complaint, the evidence, past jurisprudence and the Canadian Human Rights Act.”

Click to play video: 'Federal Election 2019: Singh says Liberals wrong on Human Rights Tribunal appeal' Federal Election 2019: Singh says Liberals wrong on Human Rights Tribunal appeal
Federal Election 2019: Singh says Liberals wrong on Human Rights Tribunal appeal – Oct 4, 2019

Both Green Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have condemned the Liberals’ decision to appeal the ruling. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said a Tory government would ask for a judicial review.

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–With files from the Canadian Press and Global News

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