Posted on December 15, 2023

Federal Liabilities ‘Likely’ Owed to Indigenous People Grow to $76B Under Trudeau

Brett Forester, CBC, December 14, 2023

The Canadian government likely owes Indigenous people almost $76 billion for currently filed land claims and lawsuits, recent official reporting says — a sum that’s nearly seven times greater today than when Justin Trudeau became prime minister.

In 2015, Ottawa counted $11 billion in “contingent liabilities,” which are potential legal obligations recorded only in cases where the probability of future payment is considered “likely,” according to the 2023 public accounts of Canada.

This year’s fall economic statement showed the vast majority of these liabilities — 95 per cent — stem from Indigenous claims against the Crown.

It’s a spike the non-partisan parliamentary budget officer, who provides lawmakers with spending analysis, calls disconcerting.

“It is very, very significant,” said Yves Giroux.

“It’s a bit surprising to see these being multiplied by seven.”

From the Liberal government’s perspective, the increase means progress, according to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree.

“I’m not surprised by it,” he said.

“It is, I think, a part of the reconciliation process that we’ve undertaken. We have been consistent in ensuring that past harms are resolved.”

The NDP’s Indigenous Services critic disagrees.

“It means that Canada is still implementing its genocidal policies,” Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said.

“And it means that Indigenous Peoples are not putting up with it anymore.”

The scope of Canada’s legal struggles with Indigenous people is revealed further in the public accounts and government statistics provided to CBC Indigenous.

The data show the two Indigenous-governing ministries spent a combined $89.8 million on lawyers last fiscal year, and currently face 1,152 open lawsuits. There were 136 cases resolved between 2014 and now.

Government-wide liabilities now total more than $2 trillion, but this includes claims and debts where the possibility of future payment is unlikely or unknowable, the accounts say.

Looking at the numbers, Idlout points to the persistent poverty, overlapping social crises and acute infrastructure deficit Indigenous people continue to grapple with. She predicts the Liberals will find only more trouble unless they change paths — and fast.

“If they don’t, they’re going to continue to be sued,” Idlout said.

“That, to me, is abundantly clear.”