OTTAWA – The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has awarded more than $2 billion in compensation to First Nations children and their families who were separated by a chronically underfunded welfare system.

In a ruling this morning the tribunal says the federal government “wilfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on reserves by not properly funding child and family services.

The result was a mass removal of Indigenous children from their parents for years in a system Indigenous leaders say had more First Nations kids living in foster care than at the height of the residential-schools era.

The tribunal is awarding the maximum damages it can – $40,000 – for each child taken away for lack of proper services or who was later returned to his or family, for each parent or grandparent who had a child taken, for each child who experienced abuse in foster care, and for each child who was taken into foster care because proper medical supports were not made available to their families.

The Assembly of First Nations says as many as 54,000 children could be eligible for the compensation.

The decision comes more than three-and-a-half years after the tribunal ruled there was clear discrimination by the federal government, which did not provide anywhere near the funding non-Indigenous children received for child welfare services.