Treaty 8 chiefs back lawsuit against Alberta, federal governments over child welfare

Treaty 8 First Nations (Alberta) Grand Chief Arthur Noskey.

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

(ANNews) – Treaty 8 First Nations chiefs are supporting a lawsuit launched by current and former Indigenous foster children alleging the Alberta government pocketed federal funds intended for children in care. 

The suit alleges that children’s special allowances (CSA), which are intended to match funds for children whose parents receive the Canada Child Benefit, have been used as general revenue by Alberta governments dating back to 1993. 

Under the CSA, children under the age of six are entitled to a monthly $620 payment while children six and over are entitled to $520. 

“The Province of Alberta by its actions was essentially using children in care as a source of revenue, to offset its funding obligations of child welfare. And that is just wrong,” plaintiff lawyer Harold Cochrane, said at a Nov. 27 news conference, as per CBC News.

CSA funds are meant to be used for care, training, education and the general advancement of foster children, as opposed to maintenance funds which provide for their basic needs.

The lawsuit focuses on children who live off reserve, whose CSA funding is delivered through Alberta’s Ministry of Children’s Services. Child welfare organizations and foster parents on reserves receive the funds directly from the feds. 

“The conduct of Alberta was deliberate, lasted for decades, and represents a marked departure from ordinary standards of reasonable and decent behaviour,” the statement of claim submitted to the Edmonton Court of King’s Bench on Nov. 24 says. 

However, the suit also names the federal government as a defendant, arguing that it is responsible for ensuring the funds are properly allocated by its partners. 

The individual plaintiffs are Sierra Elise Clarke of Tall Cree Nation, Octavian Laboucan and foster parent Kelly Gosal, who is representing an unnamed Indigenous child in her care, both of Whitefish Lake First Nation.

Gosal described an inability to afford extracurricular activities for her foster child as a result of not receiving CSA payments. 

“These children go through so much trauma, they need extra love and care. The last thing they should worry about is finances,” she said.

The lawsuit argues that the province’s failure to distribute CSA funds appropriately amounts to discrimination against Indigenous children, since they are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system. 

“Alberta Children’s Services legislation has the same effects as the residential schools. Our children and families are broken. We as First Nations need to develop our child well-being laws, and bring our children home,” Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey said at the Nov. 27 news conference, according to APTN News.

Last year, a similar lawsuit in Manitoba was successful. 

“The court in Manitoba was clear that it does not matter if the government may not have intended discrimination against our children,” said Chief Ivan Sawan of Loon River First Nation in northern Alberta. 

“What matters is that the result of the policy, children in care did not have access to the CSA benefit to pay their expenditures that may assist at-risk youth with homelessness and lack of clothing.”

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