Tribunal rules government has discriminated against First Nations children
- EFN Staff | January 26, 2016
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde welcomes today’s decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) for the federal government to jointly develop a new system of child welfare for First Nations on reserve and is calling for immediate action by the federal government to work with First Nations to ensure safety, fairness and equity for First Nations children and families.
In a highly anticipated decision released this morning, the CHRT states the Government of Canada has discriminated against First Nations children and families on reserve since the beginning of residential schools and requires the federal government to work with parties to the case to identify a process for remedy, which includes returning to the CHRT in coming weeks for an order on remedies.
“Today the kids win. Today the children are put first,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “This ruling is nine years in the making. That is a full generation of children waiting for justice and fairness, not to mention the decades of discrimination that has created the gap between First Nations and Canadians. First Nations are ready to work together with the federal government to develop a new system of child and family services as directed by the CHRT, and this includes immediate relief funding for First Nations children and families and a new collaborative approach to a funding formula that is responsive to needs, reflective of regional diversity and respects fundamental human rights. We cannot wait any longer to close the gap, and I look forward to seeing how the next federal budget will support safety, fairness and equity for First Nations children and families.”
In a highly anticipated decision released this morning, the CHRT found the federal government is discriminating against First Nations children and families on reserve by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services for decades. The decision further states that the Government of Canada has failed to fully implement Jordan’s Principle, which is meant to ensure equitable access to government services available to other children in Canada.
The decision also requires the federal government to work with the parties to identify a process for remedy, which includes returning to the CHRT in coming weeks for an order on remedies.
The AFN is seeking immediate funding relief for First Nations children and families based on real needs and reflective of regional diversity and the establishment of an oversight mechanism to ensure equity and fairness are achieved, and maintained.
“The importance of this decision cannot be over-stated and we would like to thank AFN’s witnesses Elder Robert Joseph, Dr. Amy Bombay and Dr. John Milloy for presenting evidence on historic disadvantage resulting from Indian Residential Schools,” said AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart who is responsible for the child welfare portfolio at AFN. “The AFN lifts up our partner in this work, Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, for her long-standing commitment and dedication to achieving equity for our kids. This is about our children, our families and our future, and we will be relentless in our efforts to ensure they have every opportunity to justice, fairness and success.”
“This is a great day for everyone who believes in fairness and justice for children” said Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s top call to action is to end the dramatic over-representation of Aboriginal children in foster care by reforming child welfare and ensuring equitable resources for culturally based services. Today’s landmark decision signals an end to the federal government’s long and tragic history of discriminating against First Nations children in ways that needlessly separate them from their families. It is essential that the federal government immediately implement the ruling and end inequalities in other First Nations children’s services such as education, health and basics like water and housing.”
The AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society jointly filed the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in February 2007 alleging the provision of First Nations child and family services by the Government of Canada was flawed, inequitable and thus discriminatory under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The joint complaint states that the Government of Canada has a longstanding pattern of providing inequitable funding for child welfare services for First Nations children on reserves compared to non-Aboriginal children. The impacts are many, including the staggering statistic that there are more First Nations children in care today than at the height of the residential schools system. Hearings took place between February 2013 and October 2014 involving 25 witnesses and more than 500 documents filed as evidence.
Internal federal government documents estimate the child welfare funding shortfall to be 34.8 percent and link this inequity to children going into foster care because their families are not provided equitable support services.
The federal government has 20 days from the date of decision to appeal.