50-year-old Ontario First Nation child welfare agreement blamed for Sixties Scoop under review

Ottawa, Ontario and First Nations in the province are working toward reopening the 50-year-old agreement that governs First Nation child welfare funding and is blamed for the Sixties Scoop in the province.

AFN Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day says study has been launched to modernize agreement

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said First Nations, Ontario and Ottawa are working to modernize a 50 year-old child welfare agreement blamed for the 60s Scoop. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa, Ontario and First Nations in the province are working toward reopening the 50-year-old agreement that governs First Nation child welfare funding and is blamed for the Sixties Scoop in the province. 

Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said the province has commissioned a report to analyze the 1965 Indian Welfare Agreement and explore how it could be improved.

"We want to open it up and see what it looks like, how we can modernize the 1965 agreement," said Day.

The agreement, last amended in 1981, was struck so the province would provide social services, including child and family services, to First Nations. Under the agreement Ottawa reimburses Ontario for roughly 93 per cent of what it spends.

"That cost-share arrangement has been a foundation for the child welfare industry and children becoming commodities in Ontario's foster care system," said Day.

"This is where the Sixties Scoop case comes from."

Ontario began wide-scale apprehension of First Nation children around the time the agreement was signed, according to evidence filed before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The tribunal on Thursday issued another ruling ordering the federal government to pick up the pace of increasing funding and moving on needed First Nation child welfare reform.

Ontario willing to talk

Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau said the province is open to negotiating the agreement.

"We have to stop looking at child protection as simply as child protection and going in and pulling kids out," said Coteau.

"There has to be the before and after, the full holistic view of what is best for the child."

Michael Coteau, Ontario minister of children and youth services, said Ontario is willing to negotiate modernizing the 1965 agreement. (CBC)

Coteau said Ottawa "needs to start contributing to everything else around child protection that actually prevents it as well."

Ottawa moved quickly Thursday to comply with the Ontario-specific orders issued by the Human Rights Tribunal, saying it would be reinstating funding for First Nation representatives to intervene in child welfare cases involving community members.

The Stephen Harper government ended that funding despite complaints from Ontario.

Ottawa at the table

Ottawa also announced it would be providing additional funding, retroactive to Jan. 26, 2016, to First Nations and agencies to cover the actual cost of child welfare services.

The tribunal also suggested Canada consult with Ontario on possible changes to the 1965 agreement to address funding gaps for mental health services in the long term.

The tribunal said current gaps in funding should be addressed through the application of Jordan's Principle, which states jurisdictional issues should not impede the delivery of equitable services for children and youth on-reserve. 

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said Ottawa is moving quickly to reform First Nation child welfare system. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Philpott told reporters Thursday that Ottawa has set up trilateral tables with every province on First Nation child welfare.

"We have lots of enthusiasm, in Ontario and in other provinces too ... to potentially adjust past policies and find a new way to go forward," said Philpott.

Coteau said Ontario is making significant headway on the file compared to other jurisdictions.

Ontario backed failed joint statement 

Ontario was willing to sign off on a joint statement that failed to materialize at the conclusion of last week's emergency meeting between Ottawa, provincial, territorial and Indigenous leaders, he said.

Ontario didn't sign off on a final statement to avoid creating a perception of division during a meeting that was the first of its kind after other provinces said they were concerned with some of the wording.

Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec were the main holdouts on signing-off on the final statement.


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him