Indigenous

Advocates once again push federal government to comply with First Nations child welfare ruling

Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has issued 3 compliance orders to feds since landmark 2016 ruling

Aboriginal Children 20170223

Cindy Blackstock says the federal government is still short-changing kids, a year after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the First Nations child welfare system is underfunded and discriminatory. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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First Nations child advocates are before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in Ottawa again this week, trying to force the federal government to abide by an order to provide equitable funding for child and family services on reserves.

In a landmark ruling last year, the tribunal found that the federal government discriminates against First Nation children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere.

The ruling came a decade after the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society took Canada to court over the under-funding of on-reserve child welfare.

Since the ruling, however, the tribunal has issued three compliance orders to the federal government.

"Canada is saying it's above the law, it doesn't owe First Nations children equality in this country. I think it's a sad day for the nation," said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

'Discrimination continues,' Blackstock says

In 2016, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society estimated that it would take $216 million just to tackle the shortfall in Indigenous child welfare across the country. That same year, the Liberals offered $634 million — spread out over five years. That earmarked just $71 million in 2016 and $99 million for 2017.

But on Wednesday, Blackstock said the 2017 federal budget offered nothing more.

"Nothing in there despite three legal orders for the government of Canada to comply and make sure that this generation of First Nations children isn't unnecessarily removed from their families because of Canada's inequitable funding," Blackstock said.

"That discrimination continues today."

A spokesperson for Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said First Nations child and family services weren't mentioned in the 2017 budget because there was no change to the $634 million already allocated in last year's budget that's rolling out as planned.

Critics point out that much of that money — $295 million — isn't actually scheduled to roll out until after the next election.

Jordan's Principle

In 2016, the tribunal also ruled that Canada must fully implement Jordan's Principle, which stipulates that no Indigenous child should suffer denials, delays or disruptions of health services available to other children due to jurisdictional disputes.

This year's federal budget includes $828 million in new money for First Nations and Inuit health, but lists Jordan's Principle under a section titled "progress to date," stating Ottawa had already made investments toward "improving the welfare of First Nations children by providing funding for First Nations Child and Family Services and to support implementation of Jordan's Principle."

The public hearings in Ottawa wrap up on Friday. Blackstock hopes the tribunal will again order the federal government to heed the previous court ruling.

If not, she's considering taking the government to federal court.

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