Politics

Liberals commit to 'comprehensive reforms' on First Nations child welfare

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has appointed a special representative to lead the push for "comprehensive reforms" to child welfare on First Nations reserves.

NDP critic Charlie Angus accuses government of 'systemic racist discrimination'

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says the government is committed to transforming the child welfare system to improve care for First Nations children. (CBC)

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has appointed a special representative to lead the push for  "comprehensive reforms" to child welfare on First Nations reserves.

The government has been under pressure from the NDP to take action after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the government discriminates against First Nations children in its delivery of child welfare services on reserves. 

Bennett said the government has already taken steps to address the tribunal's ruling, including providing funding for provincial prevention programs. But she said transformational change is required.

"At the moment, we pay and the provinces deliver and the children are not doing well," she said. "Our job now is to engage with the provinces and territories to change the way the services are delivered. There are more children in care now than there were at the height of residential schools. That has to stop."

The Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Carolyn Bennett says that the system needs to change now and the provinces and territories need to get on board. 1:06

Bennett appointed Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, the Indigenous Chair on Truth and Reconciliation at Lakehead University, as the Minister's Special Representative to lead a national engagement process with agencies, provinces and territories. ​

The NDP introduced a motion today calling on the government to comply with the human rights tribunal ruling.

That ruling found that Canada discriminates against First Nation children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services it does to other children,

The decision ordered the government to "cease the discriminatory practice and take measures to redress and prevent it" by overhauling the system and funding model to provide culturally appropriate services to First Nations children. Two compliance orders have since been issued.

'Systemic racist discrimination'

Charlie Angus, the NDP's Indigenous affairs critic, led the debate by recounting stories of children falling through the cracks of care or committing suicide. He said the "complete discrepancy" in services amounts to "systemic racist discrimination."

"What we are hearing now is change is incremental, that we should not worry because it will get better over time," he said. "I am sorry, but the communities we represent should not have to crawl and fight for inches of ground when children are suffering, when children are being denied their greatest potential."

NDP MP Charlie Angus calls the discrepancy in child welfare services for First Nations 'systemic racist discrimination.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Angus is pressing the government to adopt Jordan's Principle, which says no Indigenous child should suffer denials, delays or disruptions of health services available to other children due to jurisdictional disputes.

The principle is named for Jordan Anderson, a Cree boy from Norway House, Man., who died in hospital in 2005 after jurisdictional disagreements kept him from spending his last years in home care.

Motion debated in House

Today's motion being debated calls on the government to comply with the tribunal ruling by:

  • Immediately investing an additional $155 million in new funding for the delivery of child welfare services and establishing a funding plan for future years.
  • Implementing full definition of Jordan's Principle.
  • Fully complying with orders made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and committing to stop fighting Indigenous families in court who are seeking access to services covered by the federal government.
  • Making public pertinent documents related to the overhaul of child welfare and the implementation of Jordan's Principle.

The debate comes after Manitoba's legislature passed a motion condemning the federal government for under-funding social services to Canada's Indigenous peoples. NDP MLA Wab Kinew put forward the motion Wednesday.