Canada needs to do more for the most vulnerable kids

A landmark Human Rights Tribunal ruling in a case brought against Canada by Cindy Blackstock (Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society) and the Assembly of First Nations was the basis for a New Democrat motion that received unanimous support in the House of Commons this week.  The motion called for enactment of the ruling from January of this year that stated Canada is racially discriminating against First Nations children in a systemic way by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services and failing to implement Jordan's Principle to ensure equitable access to government services like those that are available to other children.

Jordan’s Principle was the product of a separate New Democrat motion in the 40th parliament.  It was named after Jordan River Anderson, a five-year-old boy with complex needs who died in hospital in 2005 after a two-year battle between the federal and Manitoba governments over his home care costs. It called on the government to immediately adopt a child-first principle to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children. That still hasn’t happened

This week’s motion sought to force the government turn the page. They needed a push in this direction after insufficient funds were allotted in the budget that followed the ruling.  Add to that the fact that, despite saying they would honour the tribunals ruling, the government is still fighting the decision in court.  This isn’t the only court battle the government is engaged in on these issues either.

An example of that is how the government has spent $32,000 in legal fees to avoid covering a young Cree girl’s $8,000 orthodontist bill that doctors say was necessary to save her teeth.  This kind of digging in has to come to end.  The government isn’t meeting their obligations and spending good money after bad to cover their tracks.

Here are some other unflattering numbers. The tribunal decision found that the federal government was discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children in its delivery of child welfare services on reserves. There are currently more children in care than at the height of the residential schools regime.  Perhaps we haven’t moved past the legacy of residential schools as far as we might think we have.

This year’s budget earmarked $71 million for First Nations child welfare, but Cindy Blackstock says that number should have been closer to $200 million. Blackstock says this signals a disregard for the tribunal’s orders.  She says there’s no evidence that Budget 2016 was ever adjusted after the Conservatives settled on this amount just before the election last year.

Despite the ongoing problems, passing the motion offers Canada yet another opportunity to do right by First Nations children.  The overwhelming support for the motion from organizations and individual Canadians across the country clearly shows that Canadians want to put First Nations kids first. The hopeful message we can take away is that this isn’t about political interests, but about a country immediately doing everything in its power to end the systemic discrimination of First Nations kids at risk.