Ottawa accused of failing to provide for indigenous children

TheStar.com – News/Canada – Groups say Canada still non-compliant with Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling.
Jan. 4, 2017.   By TANYA TALAGA, Global Economics Reporter

Nearly one year ago, Canada was ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to stop discriminating against 163,000 indigenous children and grant them equal access to services.

But two national indigenous organizations say Ottawa has failed to properly respond to the tribunal’s ruling, that the discrimination is continuing and they had no choice but to file another motion accusing Canada of being non-compliant.

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, led by Cindy Blackstock, and the Assembly of First Nations, filed a motion on Dec. 16, 2016, asking the tribunal to find the federal government guilty of failing to comply with the tribunal’s orders regarding Jordan’s Principle, or, providing indigenous kids living on reserve with the same essential services as non-indigenous children.

The Canadian government and the Caring Society have been locked in a legal fight about indigenous children’s rights for nearly 10 years.

The principle is named after Jordan Rivers Anderson, a 5-year-old member of Manitoba’s Norway House First Nation who died in hospital in 2005 without ever having spent one night at home due to his medical needs. Jordan was capable of living at home but neither the federal or provincial government could decide who should pay for his medical bills so he had to remain in a Winnipeg hospital.

Blackstock said the Canadian government responded to the motion by saying they do not have capacity, or, enough staff, to manage this motion of non-compliance and they want this to be rolled into a hearing in late March, 2017. A hearing is already scheduled in March regarding child welfare non-compliance matters, she added.

She finds the government’s argument surprising considering the Caring Society has only one full-time employee and three part-time employees, yet the Attorney General of Canada’s office could be described as the largest law firm in the country, she noted.

“It is, to use a generous word, quite tacky that the government of Canada is raising that argument, and it isn’t the first time they have done so. They have raised it consistently throughout the 10 years of this case,” she said Wednesday.

“You can imagine what has happened in children’s childhoods over the decade that the case has been winding its way through. And these little stall techniques from Canada have an additive flavour — in among themselves they don’t sound so bad but when you add them up that is how we have gotten to the 10 years,” she said.

Regardless of any capacity concerns, it should not overshadow the right of 163,000 children to live free of racial discrimination, she said.

Last January, 26, 2016 after a near nine-year legal fight, the tribunal ordered Canada to comply with Jordan’s Principle, which unanimously passed in Parliament in Dec. 2007.

On April 26, 2016, the tribunal order articulated a clear definition of Jordan’s Principle to apply to all First Nations children and all jurisdictional disputes. They later clarified that all children meant kids living both on and off reserve.

But the government of Canada has a different definition of what Jordan’s Principle means and to whom it applies. “They are saying children with critical illnesses and disabilities (only) and even with that they are saying they have helped 900 kids already,” she said.

“That gives you a window of how great the scope of discrimination is. When you open the window of equity very narrowly to that group only and you get 900 kids, imagine how many are actually being racially discriminated against by Canada,” she said.

Last March, $382.5 million over three years was committed to improve services for indigenous kids, but Blackstock says the bulk of the money won’t be seen until year three and before that there is little funding support.

In July, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Health Minister Jane Philpott said the $382 million will be used to “put the needs of children first” and to fix service-access disputes to make sure all levels of government work together.

The unresolved issue has left a black eye on Canada’s international reputation concerning human rights.

Last December, Blackstock went to Washington, D.C. and appeared before a hearing of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the issue.

A ruling by the commission should be revealed this month.

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