Treaty 8 First Nations in Alberta have launched a class action lawsuit against the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada, alleging that indigenous children have been denied the Children’s Special Allowance Benefit (CSA) since 1993.

The lawsuit was announced by media release on Nov. 27. 

In the release, Grand Chief Ivan Sawan claims the Alberta government has treated the benefits as “transfer payments” from Canada. Sawan is from the Loon River Cree First Nations. 

“CSA Benefits are earmarked for specific children in care and the money should flow to the child – not to reduce Alberta’s cost to care for the apprehended child. They are stealing money from our children. We are standing up for our children to stop this discrimination,” Sawan added. 

The release further explains that under the current policy, Alberta is allowed to have benefits for off-reserve indigenous children in care be paid into general revenue, reducing the province’s child welfare funding obligations. 

The provincial government applies for the benefit on behalf of those children and keep it in general revenue, the release further alleges, which the nations claim has interfered with the federal Children Special Allowances Act. 

“The over-representation of Indigenous children within the child welfare system is outrageous,” noted Sawan. “In many regards, it is a continuation of the history of indigenous children being removed from their homes, communities, and culture like the residential school system.” 

Treaty 8 members Sierra Clarke, Octavian Laboucan, and indigenous foster parent Kelly Gosal, are represented in the lawsuit, explained the release. Their legal counsel is Cochrane Saxberg LLP, DD West LLP and Murphy Battista LLP. 

“We are grateful to Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta for assisting us in litigating this case. We have been successful in correcting this same wrong in Manitoba and we feel confident we can replicate that success in Alberta. This legal action will impact thousands of children in the Province of Alberta in a good way, and we will prevail,” said Kris Saxberg, a lawyer and founding partner of Cochrane Saxberg. 

In 2022, the Court of King’s Bench of Manitoba ruled that the Manitoba Government’s child benefits policy, which is similar to Alberta’s, discriminated against off-reserve indigenous children in care. 

“This is a major legal challenge which is essential to resolve,” added Harold Cochrane, a Fisher River First Nation member with Treaty 8 Alberta, who’s also a founding partner of Cochrane Saxberg. 

The current monthly amount for a child in care under the age of six is about $620 and for a child of age six to 17 is about $520. 

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 28, 2023 at 11:10

This item reprinted with permission from   Alaska Highway News   Fort St. John, British Columbia

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