Aboriginal leaders and human rights advocates are hailing a federal court ruling that requires the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to take on a case it had dismissed involving funding for on-reserve First Nations children welfare services.
First Nations allege that discrepancies between federal funding of on-reserve child-protective services and those off reserve, which are provided by the provinces, are dramatic enough to be tantamount to discrimination. In 2011 the tribunal threw out the 2007 case brought by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), agreeing with the federal government that the two funding sources and levels can’t be compared.
Now the FNCFCS and the AFN have won a chance to be heard before the tribunal, which has been directed to convene a new review panel and evaluate the evidence. They allege that on-reserve children receive 22 percent less per capita, on average, than those living off-reserve.
“The evidence of discrimination in the delivery of basic child welfare services, and the terrible consequences for First Nations children will finally be given the serious consideration that it deserves,” said FNCFCS executive director Cindy Blackstock in a joint statement with the AFN, Amnesty International and AFN Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.
AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo lauded the decision but said he wished it hadn’t been necessary.
“This decision highlights the importance of immediately working in mutual respect and partnership as required under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” he said in the statement. “We must all agree that lengthy and costly legal battles are not the way forward. The priority is to deliver on justice and fairness for our children, and the way forward must be about working together focused on real action and results for our kids and all First Nation peoples.”
The Canadian Human Rights Commission, which oversees the tribunal, also supported the First Nations’ bid to get the case heard. The landmark decision not only directs the tribunal to examine evidence that these discrepancies are tantamount to discrimination but also could set a precedent for similar investigations of funding for education, policing and health in addition to child welfare, said David Langtry, the country’s acting human rights commissioner, to the Canadian Press. The three parties argued the case from February 13–15.
“This is an important victory, not only for the First Nations who are involved in the case, but indeed we would suggest all First Nations, because it really underpins the access to justice for all First Nations people,” Langtry told the Canadian Press. “This is extremely significant to us. It’s a key test of our legislation as it applies to First Nations, and affects a wide range of cases involving federally funded programs and services.”