Canadian taxpayers not consulted about massive reparations to First Nations people
Payment of reparations to historically mistreated racial minorities, especially people of African origin, remains a hot topic of discussion in the United States, most notably in California and especially San Francisco. In Canada, governments have paid reparations to First Nations for almost two decades under the misleading heading of Reconciliation. Call it reparations by stealth.
Reparations began with the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (finalized in 2007), which awarded almost $5 billion in individual payments to those who attended the schools. Class actions regarding other forms of education were launched, but the federal Department of Justice resisted until 2015 when Justin Trudeau came to power. The new justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, instructed departmental lawyers to seek negotiated settlements instead of litigating. These instructions were formalized in her 2019 “Litigation Guidelines.”
Payouts for new claims quickly followed, including for those who had attended residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador (even though Canada had had no role in running these schools), day schools on reserves (even though children who attended them had continued to live with their families), “day scholars” who had attended residential schools during the day while still living at home, and “boarding home” students who had lived with families in town while attending public school. All types of formal education have been deemed grounds for paying compensation—yet imagine the claims if Canada had offered no education to Indigenous peoples.
Claims also spread quickly beyond education. The “Sixties Scoop” settlement paid compensation to Indigenous children who had been “adopted out” (i.e., given for adoption to non-Indigenous parents). The largest settlement to date is $43.3 billion for children on reserves taken into foster care by welfare authorities—$23.3 billion for individual compensation to children and their families and $20 billion for improvement to family services. A new claim for off-reserve children is yet to be negotiated but could also yield a very large payout.
Then there’s a claim by those who were treated in Indigenous hospitals (still not resolved) and the drinking water settlement, which set aside $1.5 billion for individual compensation and $5.4 billion for improvement of the water supply on reserve. Other claims have arisen from a variety of alleged grievances—mistreatment of Indigenous employees of Indian Oil and Gas Canada, involuntary sterilization of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan, failure to adjust Treaty 1 annuities (Manitoba) for inflation and economic growth, and the impact of foster care on bands (First Nations) as distinct from the impact on individuals and families.
The cost of claims approved thus far is $27.8 billion in payments to individuals and $31.9 billion for payments to organizations and promises of improved services, for a total of almost $60 billion (2023 dollars). Claims now in progress will add significantly to these sums.
Large expenditures are being negotiated between the Department of Justice and counsel for First Nations, to be then approved by the courts. Parliament is almost entirely cut out of the process, and elected representatives have no meaningful oversight. Contrary to Canadian legal tradition, individual claims of mistreatment do not merely lead to compensation but overturn core government policies enacted by previous Parliaments. The damage is likely to continue while the 2019 “Litigation Guidelines” remain in effect because they lead to politically-inspired negotiations rather than a thorough examination of claims in court.
Of course, every dollar paid in reparations comes from the pockets of Canadian taxpayers who get no say in the matter. There’s no public discussion of reparations because Parliament is out of the loop. Would Canadians really vote to give $60 billion (and climbing) to First Nations based on claims of harm that are not subject to critical scrutiny because the government prefers to shovel out taxpayer money rather than challenge the assertions in court?
Canadians often scoff at U.S. politics as crude and demagogic. But at least Americans get a voice on reparations, as California Governor Gavin Newsom is finding out. When he saw the cost of reparations recommended by his own advisory commission, he punted, knowing he will never be re-elected if he authorizes sums of that magnitude in reparations for slavery—in a state where slavery was never even legal. In contrast, such payments in Canada would be authorized by a court after closed-door negotiations, and taxpayers would be left wondering why their taxes continue to go up.