Federal government failing to comply with ruling on First Nations child welfare: tribunal

The federal government has done nothing to comply with a Human Rights Tribunal decision issued in January that ruled First Nations children are discriminated against because of inadequate funding for child and welfare services, Indigenous leaders say.

'What they're doing is illegal, and immoral. We're talking about little kids,' Indigenous activist says

'What they're doing is illegal, and immoral. We're talking about little kids,' Cindy Blackstock, left, told CBC News of the government's heel-dragging. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The federal government has done virtually nothing to comply with a Human Rights Tribunal decision issued in January that ruled First Nations kids are discriminated against because of inadequate funding for child and welfare services, Indigenous leaders said Thursday.

The quasi-judicial tribunal has now issued a second compliance order to force the government to take immediate action and rectify funding shortfalls to ensure First Nations children who primarily live on reserve have access to public services on the same terms as all other Canadian children.

The tribunal said Thursday it will continue to make further orders, if need to be, to ensure discrimination is eliminated.

"I am profoundly disappointed we had to take the Canadian government to court to treat little children fairly," Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society, told reporters Thursday. 

"I cannot believe that it's taken two compliance orders since the ruling in January ... to try and get the government to act. Why are they taking so long?"

Tribunal panelists said Thursday the federal government's failure to deal promptly with key findings of their January decision in a timely manner is ''reflective of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada's old mindset that spurred this complaint. This may imply that INAC is still informed by information and policies that led to discrimination."

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in January that the federal government's funding model "resulted in denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves."

It said the federal government has consistently failed to provide services to First Nations children comparable to those offered by the provincial system.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, holds a copy of the Human Rights Tribunal's second compliance order. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The tribunal called on the government to redesign the child welfare system and its funding model, and urged the use of experts to ensure First Nations are given culturally appropriate services.

In its landmark January ruling, the tribunal also compared the current state of on-reserve child welfare to the residential schools system, where "the fate and future of many First Nations children is still being determined by the government."

'What they're doing is illegal'

"What they're doing is illegal, and immoral. We're talking about little kids," Blackstock told CBC News of the government's heel-dragging.

"This pattern of the federal government using racial discrimination against children as a fiscal restraint measure continues, and I pray every day that the government will see the light and stop the practice. But it's going to take Canadians rising up and saying that we no longer want to be a country that pays for anything on the backs of kids," Blackstock said.

She pointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report, which calls upon "federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care." Its first five recommendations all address child welfare.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to implement all 94 of the commission's recommendations.

The Liberal government has committed to spending $8.4 billion on First Nations services over the next five years, but AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said money has been slow to roll out.

Moreover, the federal budget only earmarked $71 million for child welfare in the first year, a fraction of what experts say is needed to restore fairness.

"There were commitments in the federal government's budget. Were they enough? We don't know because information is slow and forthcoming," Bellegarde said Thursday. "It's really best about the best care for the most vulnerable of our society, those young First Nations men and women. We'll keep pushing to fix this."