It doesn’t appear the Justice department is providing the total legal costs of its ongoing fight against First Nations children at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that stretches back to when the complaint was first filed in February 2007.
NDP MP Charlie Angus requested the costs through what’s known as an order paper question in Parliament last month. When he finally got it back Thursday the government appeared to provide some of the costs, but not all citing solicitor client privilege.
“Government’s are obligated to tell the truth in order paper questions. It is one of the few tools of accountability we have as opposition,” Angus told APTN News.
The Justice department appears to have provided costs associated directly to legal proceedings at the tribunal, which it claims to have spent more than $5.2 million from 2007 to Dec. 9, 2020.
Angus also wanted the legal fees associated with the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal, which Ottawa has used multiple times in attempts to quash the case and recently as of last fall.
Justice Minister David Lametti signed-off on the response, which said the specific breakdown of Federal Court costs couldn’t be released to due to solicitor client privilege.
APTN asked Lametti’s office for clarification on what the order paper response says, particularly if Federal Court costs were withheld, but a spokesperson said they couldn’t clarify due to solicitor client privilege.
There’s a reason why APTN asked.
The number is clearly higher than what the Liberals have revealed so far, said Cindy Blackstock, who filed the human rights complaint along with the Assembly of First Nations, alleging Canada discriminated against First Nations children by purposely underfunding the on-reserve child welfare system. They won their case on Jan. 26, 2016 when the tribunal found Canada guilty.
So how high is the number? Blackstock claims as of 2017 it was $9.4 million and that she has the documents to support her claim.
Throughout her fight she has used access to information laws to pull documents from the federal government it typically will not just hand over. She provided APTN with legal invoices, as well as a chart breaking them all down, for the tribunal, Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal – all relating to the tribunal case.
“I am surprised that the minister of justice would claim that they have only spent $5 million in legal fees on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case on First Nations children when Canada’s own records obtained via access to information show that Canada spent over $9.4 million in legal as of 2017,” said Blackstock.
“Since then, the tribunal has issued five further orders and the Federal Court has issued one – meaning Canada’s legal fees have climbed significantly since then.”
After the tribunal issued its historic ruling in 2016 it’s had to issue non-compliance order after non-compliance order to force the government to act on it.
Hours after this story was originally published Friday morning APTN was provided with a response from the Justice department.
“The Department of Justice has a consistent formula that officials use to calculate the legal costs for all matters. As our office has not been provided with access to the documents that Dr. Blackstock is referencing, it is difficult to make any further assessment. If Dr. Blackstock would like to share the documents with us, we would be pleased to look into the matter further,” the statement said.
“As we have said previously, our focus remains on finding a fair and equitable resolution for First Nations children who have been negatively impacted by child and family policies.”
The federal government is currently fighting its last order to compensate First Nations children apprehended in the on-reserve child welfare system $40,000 each dating back to 2006 until present day.
Details of that fight have been well documented by APTN and be read here.
“Caring Canadians do not want the federal government spending tax money fighting equality for little kids. They want Canada to end the discrimination and pay compensation to the children and families hurt so badly by what the tribunal called a ‘worst-case scenario,’” said Blackstock.
Because the fees were already provided through access to information, Angus said, they should have been released to him in the order paper question response, as well.
The fact that they weren’t is a concern, he said.
“If Lametti’s office provided false information it is serious,” said Angus.