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Tribunal Raps Canada’s Knuckles on Children’s Rights

Not good enough.

That’s the latest from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to the Canadian government in a recent ruling on complaints by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) about funding for on-reserve child welfare.

Nearly 10 months after the Tribunal initially ordered Canada to bring child welfare services on-reserve up to par with those provided to children not residing on reserves, not enough has happened, the Tribunal ruled on September 14. Indeed, the lack of action means that 163,000 First Nations children are essentially being discriminated against by the federal government, the Tribunal and child advocates affirmed.

“I am profoundly disappointed that the federal government is failing to comply with repeated legal orders to end its racial discrimination against 163,000 First Nations children,” said First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Executive Director Cindy Blackstock—who brought the initial charges against the government in 2007—in a statement. “This non-compliance is part of Canada’s long and tragic history of knowing better and failing to do better for First Nations children resulting in generation after generation being unnecessarily removed from their families. As the Tribunal suggested in January, Ottawa needs to move from empty rhetoric to meaningful action.”

The initial ruling was handed down last January 26.

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The Tribunal’s new compliance order directs the government to provide information on how it is implementing the initial ruling. The Tribunal also ordered the government to comply with Jordan’s Principle, a policy that was created to keep children’s services from getting snagged in bureaucratic money issues, as the Canadian Press described it.

The Liberal Party’s federal budget includes about $635 million over five years in new funding with $71 million set to be released immediately, the Canadian Press reported.

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But Blackstock said that latter figure falls $200 million short of what’s needed. In a September speech on Parliament Hill sponsored by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, she said that on-reserve child welfare services are funded at a rate 30 percent below the level that such services are funded off-reserve.

Six percent of on-reserve children are in state care, almost eight times the rate for other Canadian children, Blackstock told Vice. On some reserves that rate is doubled.

“Why are they taking so long?” said Blackstock.

“What they are doing is illegal and immoral,” she told the Canadian Press. “It is saying, really, in its actions that the government of Canada is above the law and, sadly, that First Nations children are below the law.”

Indigenous leaders concurred.

“I welcome today’s ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal, but it is disappointing to see that Canada has to be pushed to respect human rights and end discrimination against First Nations children,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement responding to the September ruling.

“The fact that Canada is dragging its feet is contrary to fairness and human rights,” echoed Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart.

The Tribunal also ordered the government to comply fully with the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, which says that in the event of a dispute over who should pay for a medical procedure, the first governmental entity involved should pay, with argument about who should pay to be resolved after.

The measure is named after Jordan River Anderson, born in 2001 with a rare muscular disorder. He spent the next two years in a Winnipeg hospital, but when it was appropriate for him to return home, governmental entities could not agree on who would be responsible to pay for his medical care. Stuck in the hospital while the two parties haggled, Jordan died there in 2005.

The Tribunal made a large number of specific orders to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. It ordered that Jordan’s Principle must apply to all medical needs, not just for acute and complex medical situations. As well, the policy should apply to Indigenous Peoples both on and off reserve. Other orders called for updating old rates of funding and reimbursement to allow for inflation. Demands were made for details on how measures are being implemented, and INAC was instructed to engage in consultations with FNCFCS to work out implementation of various orders. The Tribunal also decided to retain jurisdiction. It will keep an eye on implementation.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told the Canadian Press that the government is reviewing the latest order.

"We know that the child welfare system on reserve needs to be overhauled, and that is why we are engaging with First Nations youth, First Nations leadership, service providers, the provinces and Yukon Territory,'' Bennett said in a statement to the news wire. "Our government is committed to changing the status quo, and we are taking action to ensure that we get this right for First Nation children and families on reserve.''