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Human Rights Tribunal Dismisses Discrimination Complaint; First Nations to Appeal

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The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on Monday dismissed a 2007 case alleging that First Nations children were being discriminated against by discrepancies in funding between federal services to aboriginals living on reserves, and provincial services to non-reserve children.

"I am saddened by the decision of the Tribunal," said Irwin Elman, Ontario's Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, in a statement on March 15. “Truth and Reconciliation can only begin when systemic discrimination is challenged and brought to the light of day. An opportunity was lost here today the human rights of First Nations children were made secondary in the findings of the tribunal and that is a loss for all of us involved in the work of child advocacy and children's rights."

After delaying a decision six months past a June 2010 deadline, the Human Rights Tribunal ruled on March 14 that the federal government, which attends to at-risk on-reserve children under the auspices of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), does not have to match the services provided by individual provinces, which oversee children not living on-reserve.

The initial case had been brought by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS) after the agencies learned that child-welfare services for First Nation children do not receive equal funding on- and off-reserve.

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"We are reviewing the decision carefully and are going to consider all options to ensure this complaint moves forward because this is first and foremost about the welfare of First Nations children," AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said in a statement. "Our primary objective is ending the unequal treatment that places them in harm's way. This issue is too important and needs to be heard on its merits and not de-railed by technicalities and legal maneuvering."

The FNCFCS plans to appeal the decision.