Tribunal Rules Canada Discriminated Against First Nations Children

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society.

By Red Power Media, Staff

On-reserve child welfare system receives less funding than elsewhere

Canada’s federal government has discriminated against First Nations children by providing less money for social services on reserves, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

CTV News reports, the decision comes nearly nine years after a complaint was filed by the Assembly of First Nations and The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

In its ruling Tuesday, the tribunal found that funding formula used by the federal First Nations Child and Family Services Program (FNCFS) and related agreements with the provinces and territories have resulted in the denial of child welfare services on reserves.

The tribunal also found cases in which there was a financial incentive for the government to remove children living on reserves from their parents’ care and place them in foster care, even though that’s not the standard of care off reserves.

The society’s executive director Cindy Blackstock said the federal government’s own documents shows the gap in funding for social services on reserves runs between 22 and 34 per cent.

She noted the gap is “particularly intense” when it comes to services meant to keep families together.

“I can’t even believe we had to take the federal government to court to get them to treat First Nations children fairly,” Blackstock told CTV News Channel shortly after the decision was released. “I’m hoping they’ll use this opportunity to end the inequality for 163,000 children, not only in children’s welfare, but in education, health and basics like water.”

Children take part in a protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 14, 2013 calling for equal education for First Nations.

Children take part in a protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 14, 2013 calling for equal education for First Nations.

According to CBC Newsthe Canadian Human Rights Commission applauded the tribunal’s ruling.

“This historic decision could have a profound impact on how the government of Canada funds other on-reserve programs and services,” wrote Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner of the human rights commission.

Long fight

Hearings began in 2013, and the federal government made multiple attempts to have the case thrown out.

“They fought right out of the gate,” Blackstock said.

Before final arguments were heard in October 2014, during which the tribunal heard from 25 witnesses, the federal government had racked up $5.3 million in legal fees.

“Never once were those motions brought because they felt it was in the best interests of the children,” Blackstock said. “It was always to protect the government.”

Following the ruling, UNICEF Canada’s President and CEO David Morley said the tribunal has “set an important precedent” by promoting the right for First Nations children to be free from discrimination.

“We have a long history of inequitable treatment of First Nations children that must be recognized, atoned for and addressed moving forward so they have the same rights, access to services and opportunities as every other Canadian child,” Morley said in a statement.

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