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Human Rights Tribunal begins historic case alleging Federal Government discrimination against First Nation children in state care

by NationTalk on September 14, 20091319 Views

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OTTAWA, Sept. 14 - Today, a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began hearing a historic case which asserts the federal government is discriminating against thousands of First Nation children in the federal child welfare system. It is the first time a human rights complaint case involving discrimination against First Nations has been filed with the Human Rights Commission. The federal government has applied for a judicial review, which began last Friday, which is challenging the Tribunal’s right to hear the case.The case before the Tribunal, filed by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) follows a number of reports, including the Auditor General of Canada (2008) and Standing Committee on Public Accounts (2009), which found that the federal government is not funding First Nations child welfare agencies at the same level as provincial services resulting in inequitable services. The reports note that government has known about shortfalls in its child welfare funding for more than nine years, but has made very modest improvements in only three provinces. As a result First Nations children and families on reserve lack the same prevention services offered to other Canadians, case-workers are overburdened, and many agencies operate without basics like computers or safe office buildings, which are sorely needed to improve planning, evaluation and the effectiveness of the services offered to children.

“At its heart, this issue is about caring for the most vulnerable members of our society. Our children deserve the same care afforded to other children in Canada. We hope all parties to work together to address the inequities in the system,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo. “We look forward to the fair and independent process offered by an independent Human Rights Tribunal, as a step towards solutions which are urgently needed.”

“A year after the apology for the wrongful removal of First Nations children from their families, the federal government is spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to derail the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from hearing all of the facts instead of using that money to help children on reserves stay safely with their families,” said Cindy Blackstock, CEO of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

The case was filed with the Human Rights Commission two years ago. The Commission recommended mediation three times. Each time the AFN and FNCFC society accepted, but the government refused. After the Canadian Human Rights Commission put the child welfare discrimination case before a Tribunal, last October, the federal government appealed the Tribunal’s right to hear the case to federal court. That appeal began on September 11, 2009.

The Tribunal proceedings are open to the public. Updates on the tribunal will also be available at www.fnwitness.ca.

“Caring Canadians can help – go on line to www.fnwitness.ca and sign up to be a witness to the tribunal saying you will follow the case by attending in person or through the media and make up your own mind about whether the federal government is treating First Nations children fairly. It takes only two minutes and it is free,” said Cindy Blackstock.

Currently there are 27,000 First Nation children in care. Approximately 9,000 in First Nations Child and Family services, the remainder in provincial services. The main reason First Nations children come into care is neglect due to poverty.

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada is a national non-profit organization providing services to First Nations child welfare organizations.

Backgrounder: First Nations Human Rights Complaint on Child Welfare.
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In the 1950s provinces began to deliver child welfare services on reserves.

In the 1970s thousands of First Nations children were adopted out of their communities, some even outside Canada, severing the children’s ties to their communities and culture. To remedy these problems, First Nations demanded greater control and jurisdiction over child welfare. Some First Nations developed their own child welfare agencies.

In 1990, the federal government approved a national First Nations child welfare policy. The policy’s goal is to provide culturally sensitive child welfare services comparable to those available to other provincial residents in similar circumstances.

Under the policy, First Nations agencies obtain their mandate from the province and provide child welfare services in accordance with provincial legislation and standards. If the federal government provides inadequate funding, the provinces typically do not top up the funding levels.

Currently First Nations Child welfare agencies receive, on average, 22 percent less funding than provincial agencies. This has resulted in a two-tiered child welfare system where First Nations children on reserves receive less funding and services than other children. Reports documenting inequalities in First Nations child welfare funding and services include: the Wen:de Reports (2005); The AFN Leadership Action Plan on Child Welfare (2006) Auditor General of Canada, (May 2008); Standing Committee on Public Accounts, (2009).

On February 27, 2007, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada launched a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The complaint alleges that the Government of Canada had a longstanding pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children resulting in inequitable services.

In October 2008, the Canadian Human Rights Commission announced the complaint would be heard by a Tribunal.

In November 2008 the federal government filed for a judicial review in Federal Court challenging the Tribunal’s right to hear the case.

On September 11, 2009 the judicial review began.

September 14, 2009 the Tribunal hearing began.

First Nations children are drastically over represented in child welfare care. As of May of 2005, the Wen:de study found that 0.67% of non Aboriginal children were in child welfare care in three sample provinces in Canada as compared to 10.23% of status Indian children. Overall there are more First Nations children in child welfare care in Canada than attended residential schools at the peak of the system.

The Canadian Incidence Study on Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) has found that First Nations children come to the attention of child welfare authorities for different reasons than non Aboriginal children. First Nations are not more likely to experience abuse than non-Aboriginal children. First Nations children are more likely to be reported for neglect which is driven by poverty, poor housing and caregiver substance misuse.

For further information: Robert Simpson, (778) 991-1407; Chantelle Krish, (778) 990-9544

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