Children ask Harper to ‘Have a Heart’ and improve education on reserves

VancouverSun.com – news – Ottawa expected to argue it’s not responsible for services delivered
February 15, 2012.    By Teresa Smith, Postmedia News

Parliament Hill was decked out in red hearts Tuesday morning, as about 400 children – aboriginal and non-aboriginal – from across the country brought “valentines” with a special message for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Have a Heart campaign aims to raise awareness about the problems facing aboriginal children in government care.

It’s part of a major publicity campaign surrounding a Federal Court judicial review brought by aboriginal child-advocacy groups against a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision to dismiss a case against the federal government.

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations allege the government is discriminating against aboriginal children by consistently underfunding child-welfare services on reserves, leading, they contend, to poverty, poor housing, substance abuse and a vast over-representation of aboriginal children in state care.

“This case will not only affect one child, one family or one first nation. This com-plaint is about all FN children on reserve – it is therefore, an issue of significant importance” and should be heard on the merits, said Sarah Clarke, counsel for the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

The caring society is one of several groups, including the Chiefs of Ontario, Amnesty International and The Canadian Human Rights Commission, appealing a 2011 ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

In that ruling, the tribunal dismissed a discrimination case brought by the Assembly of first nations and caring society in 2007.

However, the federal government is expected to argue today that, because it merely sends funds to band managers, who administer the services, the government cannot be held responsible for the services delivered.

The government also says the question itself is invalid because it funds services on reserves, while provincial governments are responsible for services to the rest of Canadians, and that comparing two governments is both “unreasonable” and nonsensical.

The “comparator” argument was used in the human rights tribunal’s initial decision to dismiss the case in 2011 before any of the main evidence had been heard.

At the Tuesday rally on Parliament Hill, students from six public schools from Ontario and Quebec gathered to deliver Valentine’s Day cards to Harper demanding “equal education” for first nations children. Several carried posters with hand-written messages, such as “My Canada includes Reserves” and “The Gov’t of Canada is no ally to protect the rights of First Nations Children.” Union representatives from CUPE also attended.

A young boy from the Kiti-gan Zibi First Nation in Mani-waki, Que., was one of several students from Grades 4 to 8 who spoke to the crowd about the need for improved education services in first nations schools.

His school, he said, doesn’t even have a library.

“The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights is for all Canadians,” said another student, named Elliot. “Despite the commitment of Canada, Canada has failed miserably in this regard.”

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