Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 1: Child Welfare (1-5)

Judge approves historic $23B First Nations child welfare compensation agreement

October 24, 2023

The settlement agreement is the largest ever in Canada

A 2019 order from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal became part of the class action settlement agreement that lawyers are seeking fees for.
The class-action lawsuit against Ottawa was based largely on a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling which found Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children and families. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: The Federal Court has approved a $23 billion settlement agreement — the largest in Canadian history — for First Nations children and families who experienced racial discrimination through Ottawa’s chronic underfunding of the on-reserve foster care system and other family services.

The settlement agreement follows a 2019 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) ruling that ordered Ottawa to pay the maximum human rights penalty for discrimination: $40,000 for each affected First Nations child and family member.

The government fought the order but eventually negotiated an agreement after it faced two class-action lawsuits, including one launched by the Assembly of First Nations that was later merged with another lawsuit.

Zacheus Trout of Cross Lake First Nation in Manitoba, one of the lead plaintiffs, said the decision left him feeling “overwhelmed” and “speechless.”

“I hope this brings a change of how we look at Indigenous people and how we can move forward, reconciling all the differences between non-Indigenous and the Indigenous people right across Canada,” he said. “It’s history that’s been made here today.”

Trout filed a lawsuit in 2021 against Ottawa for failing to provide proper health support to his two children, Sanaye and Jacob, who suffered from a rare neurological disorder called Batten disease. Both children died before age 10.

“I’ve been thinking about my kids all these years, ever since the day that they passed,” Trout said. He said he hopes Tuesday’s decision leads to improved services overall for Indigenous people.

A collage of photos show two children in wheelchairs with their family.
Zach Trout with his wife and children, Sanaye, left, and Jacob, right. (Zach Trout/Supplied)

“We do not need to be treated as third class citizens in this country and I hope this makes a big statement for the future generations to come,” Trout said.

Jonavon Meawasige said he was thinking about his mother, Maurina Beadle, after the decision was announced. Jonaveon’s brother, Jeremy Meawasige, needs around-the-clock care. He has cerebral palsy, autism, spinal curvature and hydrocephalus — a debilitating accumulation of spinal fluid in the brain.

The federal government initially tried to cover only a fraction of Meawasige’s health support costs until Beadle took the government to court and won in 2013. Beadle died in 2019.

“She would have been really proud of the decision today,” Meawasige said of his mother. “I hope this will keep Jeremy inside his home and keep him loved and keep him with the people that he needs to be with.”

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said having a finalized compensation agreement is “good news.” “It is an acknowledgement of the significant harm that discrimination — I would say systemically racist funding —  results in,” she said.

David Sterns, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said compensation likely won’t begin to flow until 2024. He said he was “thrilled” by the ruling. “This could make the difference between having a shelter for some people or being homeless for some people,” he said.

Cindy Blackstock, the First Nations children’s advocate who started the battle for federal compensation in 2007, told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics in an interview airing Tuesday that the settlement’s approval can’t be “a page turner for the government.”

Judge approves historic $23 billion First Nations child welfare compensation agreement

WATCH | Advocate, minister react to settlement approval: Duration 12:30

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu weigh in on the Federal Court approval of a $23 billion settlement agreement for First Nations children and families who experienced racial discrimination through Ottawa’s underfunding of the on-reserve foster care system and other family services.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said she has concerns about how the government is implementing some of the compliance orders issued in the CHRT’s 2019 ruling. “We all collectively need to keep our eye on Canada and demand that they stop this discrimination,” Blackstock told host David Cochrane.

Blackstock said ending “root inequalities” in government programs will be key moving forward.

On top of the $23 billion for compensation, the government set aside an additional $20 billion for long-term reform of the on-reserve child welfare system and family services.

Hajdu said the work on reforms, which continues, may be “more important” than the settlement agreement.

“It has the potential to ensure children, no matter their circumstances, have a fair chance to succeed,” she said. “That work is more complex, it is harder. But I think we’re getting to a good place.”


Darren Major, CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at