CANADA REACHES HISTORIC DEAL TO COMPENSATE FIRST NATIONS VICTIMS
On Tuesday 4 January, the Canadian government announced that a C$40 billion in-principle agreement was reached to reform the child welfare system for First Nations people and compensate more than 200,000 individuals and families harmed by the under-funded system. This class-action settlement is the largest in Canada’s history. It follows a long-running legal battle that began in 2007 with a complaint filed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Assembly of First Nations accusing the child welfare system of discriminating against First Nations children. The complaint alleged that the federal government intentionally underfunded services for First Nations communities and unnecessarily removed children from their homes. Federal policies – favouring the removal of children from their families and communities rather than helping them with poverty alleviation and the provision of food, clothing, and shelter – led to the overrepresentation of First Nations in the child welfare system. First Nations children are more than 17 times more likely to be in foster care than other Canadians and are often left without support to find employment, education opportunities, safe housing, and basic care services after turning 18. Since the CHRT (as well as the Federal Court) found the child welfare system to be discriminatory in 2016, half of the C$40 billion is allocated to the long-term reform of the First Nations Child and Family Services programme and Jordan’s Principle (intended to ensure equal access to publicly funded programmes and services for First Nations children). The other half is set aside for compensation payments to victims of the on-reserve and Yukon child welfare systems between 1 April 1991 and 31 March 2022, as well as First Nations people who experienced delays or denials of social services and medical care between 1991 and 2017.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
The Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, articulated the widespread sentiment that while no compensation amount can make up for people’s trauma, the agreement acknowledges to survivors and their families that harm and pain were caused by discrimination in funding and services due to their Indigenous identity. Furthermore, it represents practical action following the Government’s formal apologies. The Canadian Church has a legacy of working with the state to assimilate First Nations children into Euro-Canadian Christian society, especially through the running of the residential schools funded by the state. Thus, as the Church seeks to restore an accurate representation of God in Canadian society and build trust, it needs to continue its journey of humble repentance (following the apologies churches have also made) and being part of the healing process, including bringing Christ’s light into the reformation of the child welfare system. Since it is harder for the gospel to reach the hearts of the lost if they are not open to the Church and the God for whom Christians are ambassadors, the Church should take this responsibility seriously. Another statement made by Patty Hajdu is that “$40,000 [for each affected individual] is not enough to make someone whole but it certainly is a step in the right direction of acknowledging the harm that’s been experienced by individuals”. As Christians, we know that it is possible to be healed (made whole), but only by the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. The Global Church can pray that this agreement will help those who have suffered injustice and lead to more holistic societies in the future. We can also pray that the Lord would heal and restore people through a relationship with Him and break the destructive cycles these policies have created.
Please pray with us for the following:
- For the agreement to truly help those who have suffered and prevent future discrimination and neglect
- For the Church to accurately reflect the heart of God and to be actively involved in the reconciliation, healing, restoration, and reformation process in Canadian society
- For wholeness to be experienced through the salvation and grace of God transforming hearts
Image: REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier