The government of Manitoba has said it would not appeal a court judgement which ruled that the province was wrong to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in federal benefit payments to children in child welfare.
Also, the government seem open to requests for it to return the money, which according to Indigenous leaders totals over $300 million.
Families Minister Rochelle Squires said: “That is certainly on the table for discussion. We certainly respect the ruling and we also respect and acknowledge that amends need to be made.”
The former NDP government began clawing back the federal benefit called the Children’s Special Allowance in 2006. The fund normally goes to agencies that take care of children and mirrors the Canada Child Benefit availed to parents who are raising their kids.
The province earlier argued it was okay to keep the federal money since it was paying for children in care. The Progressive Conservative government cancelled the practice in 2019 and also passed a law to retroactively make it official and try to prevent any legal action.
In May, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice James Edmond disclosed that the clawback was not right and struck down the law that prevented legal action.
He said the clawback undermined federal law that governs the child benefit and violated the rights of Indigenous children under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Around 90 per cent of children in care in Manitoba are Indigenous.
The decision of the government was welcomed by Manitoba Métis Federation.
In a news release, Mona Buors, the federation’s minister for Métis child and family services, said: “While there are still outstanding decisions to be made about how the money will be returned to (children in care), we are seeing that the provincial government is acting in good faith, which gives us hope that the matter will be resolved soon.”
Squires also announced that the government would create a working group with representatives from Indigenous organizations that will review all future policies and legislation concerning Indigenous children in care.
He said: “That is what this (group) will be dedicated to — not only addressing past wrongs but moving forward with Indigenous-led solutions in the child welfare system.”
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