January 5, 2022 – The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) recognizes the historic agreement-in-principle regarding harms to First Nations children, families, and communities. On December 31, 2021, this non-binding agreement was reached between the parties which will provide $20 billion in compensation to victims and survivors, as well as a further $20 billion for long term reforms to First Nations child welfare services.
This case flows from a human rights case filed by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Assembly of First Nations in 2007 to address Canada’s racist practice of underfunding public services for First Nations children and families making recovery from the inter-generational trauma of residential schools nearly impossible. In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal substantiated the claim and ordered Canada to cease its discriminatory practices. Government representatives welcomed the 2016 decision and then failed to comply. Over 20 non-compliance and procedural orders were issued against the Canadian government since 2016 and the deaths of at least 3 children have been linked to Canada’s non-compliance.
“While the government’s announcement is encouraging, we must push for full implementation and for government to remedy the inequalities in other First Nations public services such as water, housing, education and more. It is also a time for reflection for our profession. Just as government must reform itself to ensure it stops the discrimination and does not harm another generation of children, social work and other professions must learn from this to ensure we are active, effective, and persistent justice allies going forward” said CASW President, Joan Davis-Whelan. “This agreement affirms those historic and ongoing harms and will – hopefully – chart a path forward in meaningful reconciliation.”
Currently non-binding, this agreement-in-principle must still be finalized and signed by the federal government and agreed to by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and Federal Court, likely in fall of 2022. Despite this timeline, some funds for family support services and post-majority care are to begin flowing to communities as early as April of this year. Details for both compensation and reform remain to be seen, though the federal government has stated community supports and prevention will be paramount.
“We are heartened to hear this government wishes to help move child welfare systems from intervention to prevention, and that a portion of the $20 billion will be put toward social determinants of health such as housing: we must end the colonial cycle and cease the removal of indigenous children from their families, communities, cultures, and languages,” said Davis-Whelan. “We echo the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society that it won’t be until this agreement is made fully binding – and subsequently swiftly implemented – that First Nations communities can trust that real change is underway.”
CASW urges the Government of Canada to work swiftly to cease its discriminatory conduct and undertake measures to ensure it does not hurt another generation of First Nations children and expects the settlement dollars be delivered with a haste that matches the urgency of the situation. “We also must recognize the critical -- and often painful work -- of all those who fought for this settlement, including the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (Caring Society) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) who never backed down in their pursuit of justice from the federal government,” said Davis-Whelan. “We stand beside them in continuing to hold this government to account.”
While this is a positive step, the myriad other areas in which Indigenous people and communities have been harmed by the Government of Canada must not be ignored. “We cannot be complacent – we must to turn our eyes to all the other ways Indigenous communities have been failed – not through just the child welfare system. The journey of reconciliation needs to be holistic one,” added Davis-Whelan.