Earlier this week, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere.
In February 2007, Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society, along with the Assembly of First Nations, filed a complaint against the federal government with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. They argued that the funding provided by the federal government for child welfare on reserves is much lower than the support provided by provincial governments to children off reserves, despite greater need on reserves. As the evidence showed, the federal government’s mistakes included funding aboriginal services based on population and formulas rather than on actual needs, and a lack of services to help families together in the best interest of the children. The Tribunal concluded that Ottawa created a financial incentive to remove aboriginal children from their homes and communities as a first resort because their communities and families have fewer resources to provide needed services for them. As a result, there are more First Nations children in foster care today than there were at the height of the residential school era.
The government fought for years to have the case thrown out, with hearings only beginning in 2013. Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged to repair relations with Canada’s First Nations, who experience higher levels of poverty and lower life expectancy than other Canadians. Although First Nations people make up only 5 percent of Canada’s population, they represent almost half of Canadian children aged 14 and under who live in foster care.
The Tribunal’s decision called on the government to “cease the discriminatory practice and take measures to redress and prevent it.” It even went so far as to compare on-reserve child welfare programs to the residential schools system.
One of the major reasons for holding the federal program to be discriminatory is the failure to match provincial standards of child welfare. However, evidence about the effectiveness of provincial child-welfare programs was absent from the tribunal’s decision, despite the fact that child-welfare services have often been subjected to serious critiques for ignoring and endangering First Nations children.
If you have questions about a family law matter in the Windsor and Essex County area, please contact experienced family lawyer Jason P. Howie, online or at 519.973.1500.