Lawyer ‘confident’ aboriginal child welfare case will show discrimination
Published Tuesday, February 26, 2013 8:39AM EST
A lawyer arguing that successive Canadian governments have failed to implement solutions for the problem of First Nations child welfare says he is “confident” the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will conclude there has been systemic discrimination.
Paul Champ, who is representing the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Executive Director Cindy Blackstock, said the 14-week Canadian Human Rights Tribunal which started Monday will hear evidence from social workers across the country.
Many social workers helping families in crisis on reserves don’t have the same tools as those working off-reserve, Champ told CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday. So the “only” solution is taking the children from their families, he said.
While the exact number of First Nations children in institutional care are not available, the Assembly of First Nations estimates there are at least 27,000 aboriginal children who have been removed from their families’ care.
According to the AFN, which is also arguing the case at the tribunal, children on reserves receive 22 per cent less funding for services compared to those living off reserves.
The result is a “separate but equal doctrine,” Champ said from Ottawa.
On Monday, the tribunal heard that the federal government has been trying to quash the case for years, on the basis of providing funding not being a “service” as defined by the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The Human Rights Commission argued that accepting this interpretation could also make the government exempt from discrimination complaints involving funding for other services in First Nations communities.
“The Government of Canada’s interpretation would undermine Canada’s human rights legislation, adversely impacting First Nations people in particular,” the commission explained in a statement. “It would set a precedent for other on-reserve programs and services, such as police, health, and education.”
The tribunal comes after years of legal wrangling that date back to 2007.
That was when a human rights complaint was first filed against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, but the case was dismissed four years later.
Federal lawyers are still appealing that decision, arguing that federal and provincial funding levels cannot be compared. An appeal has been set for early next month.
According to federal officials, funding for First Nations child welfare has risen by 25 per cent since 2007 to $618-million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. A significant portion of that money has been put towards prevention and keeping families together, Ottawa says.
Under the Indian Act, the federal government is responsible for funding health, education, police services and child welfare on reserves.
With files from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian and The Canadian Press