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Human rights ruling demands equal funding for First Nations children

The federal Human Rights Tribunal’s landmark ruling reveals that the Canadian government has engaged in systemic racial discrimination against First Nations children by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services as exist in the rest of Canada.

The human rights complaint was launched on behalf of 160,000 First Nations children by Cindy Blackstock and the First Nations and Family Caring Society, along with the Assembly of First Nations in February 2007. The ruling also supports the recommendations contained in the BCGEU‘s Closing the Circle report on aboriginal children in care. Cindy Blackstock and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond attended the public launch of the report in October 2015.

In their decision, the human rights panel “acknowledges the suffering of those First Nations children and families who are or have been denied an equitable opportunity to remain together…” and ordered the federal government to “cease applying its narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle and to take measures to immediately implement the full meaning of Jordan’s Principle.”

Jordan’s Principle is named after Jordan River Anderson from Norway House Cree Nation who spent more than two years in hospital unnecessarily, due to an argument between governmental agencies over who should fund his care. The child died in hospital, waiting to be returned home. The principle, which was unanimously adopted in a 2007 motion in Parliament, aims to ensure that First Nations children have the same access to government services as other children.

“The BCGEU whole-heartedly supports the tribunal’s ruling,” says BCGEU treasurer Paul Finch.  “For too long, the Canadian government has adopted racist policies with regard to First Nations peoples. This historic ruling exposes this systemic racism and forces the federal government to reform its inadequate child welfare service system for Aboriginal peoples.”

The human rights ruling also supports key findings in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, which identified child welfare equity and the full implementation of Jordan’s Principle as their top calls to action.

Statistically, First Nations children are five times more likely to be the object of a child welfare report and 12 times more likely to be placed in foster care than non-indigenous children. According to federal government data, First Nations children on reserve and in the Yukon spent more than 66 million nights in foster care between 1989 and 2012.

“The prime minister has talked about fostering a respectful nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations,” says Finch. “Now is the time to demonstrate that commitment by implementing immediate, meaningful reform to First Nations child welfare services as demanded by Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal.”