Who pays when native children fall between the cracks?

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinion/Editorials
Mar. 19, 2017.   Globe Editorial

It’s one of the basics of Canadian democracy: Parliament has the power of the purse. The government sets the budget.

As such, we’re not in favour of human-rights tribunals ordering the government to write a blank cheque, even for the best of causes. One of those causes is that of Indigenous children who have fallen between the jurisdictional cracks.

For a long time, Canada has struggled with who is to pay for the medical care of native children who suffer from severe illnesses, and their child-welfare needs. Far too often, these children have been tossed back and forth, in squabbles about who should pay for what – among the federal government, the provinces and the First Nations themselves.

In the past few years, a concept called Jordan’s Principle has been often asserted, which says that Indigenous children should not be denied treatment if Ottawa and a province can’t agree who pays. Last year, the advocates of this approach were successful at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The CHRT essentially ordered the government to spend a certain amount a year providing these and other services.

The Trudeau government gives every appearance of actually wanting to make real progress on native health issues. But the government also argues that telling the government how to spend, and where to spend it would “exceed the tribunal’s jurisdiction and invite it to engage in political decision-making.” We agree.

Yes, indigenous children must receive medical and social services equal to other Canadians. A tribunal can define those rights, but the precise details of where the money comes from, and where it goes, must largely be left to negotiations among Ottawa, the provinces and First Nations.


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