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Lawsuit on behalf of off-reserve Indigenous children approved

Class-action lawsuit alleges the federal government's actions breached the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and demonstrated systemic negligence
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VANCOUVER — The Federal Court of Canada has certified a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of off-reserve Indigenous children who were taken from their families and placed in non-Indigenous care.

In a decision released online Monday, Federal Court Justice Michael Phelan ruled the class period will cover from Jan. 1, 1992 to Dec. 31, 2019, a period the Vancouver law firm representing the plaintiffs calls the "Millennium Scoop."

The court decision says those affected include status and non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis youngsters and their families who were not living on reserves.

The class seeks various damages, restitution and recovery of specific costs on behalf of the affected children and families. 

It alleges the federal government's actions breached the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and demonstrated systemic negligence, although the claims haven't been proven in court.

Vancouver lawyer Angela Bespflug, speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs, says certification "signals an important shift in the law," because the federal government must now explain why it has treated off-reserve children differently from those living on-reserve.

“It is fundamentally wrong that Canada has agreed to compensate on-reserve children while leaving off-reserve children out in the cold," Bespflug says in a statement issued by law firm Murphy Battista.

The federal government reached an agreement in principle last year to pay $40-billion to on-reserve youngsters and their families affected by discriminatory funding practices related to the child-welfare system.

Current data show the vast majority of Indigenous children apprehended and placed into government care are off-reserve Indigenous children, says the statement from Murphy Battista.

Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, says that compared with the height of the residential school period, three times as many children are in state care today.

“Canada has apologized for residential schools, but it has continued the same policies under a different name," Blackstock says in the same statement.

“We call on Canada to stop fighting off-reserve Indigenous children in court, and to step up to the plate and lead, and to finally bring about the changes that are needed to fix this deeply broken system,” she says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2022.

The Canadian Press