Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP)
| That the House call on the government to comply with the historic ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering the end of discrimination against First Nations children, including by:
||(a) immediately investing an additional $155 million in new funding for the delivery of child welfare that has been identified as the shortfall this year alone, and establishing a funding plan for future years that will end the systemic shortfalls in First Nations child welfare;
||(b) implementing the full definition of Jordan's Principle as outlined in a resolution passed by the House on December 12, 2007;
||(c) fully complying with all orders made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and committing to stop fighting Indigenous families in court who are seeking access to services covered by the federal government; and
||(d) making public all pertinent documents related to the overhaul of child welfare and the implementation of Jordan's Principle.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to open this debate this morning to put an end to the systemic and racist discrimination against indigenous youth in Canada. However, I am very troubled by the fact that we had to force a debate in the House of Commons to get the government to recognize its legal obligation to comply with the historic ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
The Prime Minister is also the Minister of Youth, and he told Canadians that renewing the relationship with the first nations was a priority for him. Unfortunately, the government continues to drag its feet when it comes to complying with the tribunal's ruling, even though it was ordered to take immediate action. The government has ignored orders twice since the ruling was handed down. What part of “immediate” does the Prime Minister not understand?
Because of this government's lack of due diligence, Parliament now has the duty to call on the government to honour its legal obligations regarding the welfare of children who continue to suffer because of a broken, underfunded system.
All across the country, young indigenous children are dying of despair every day. They go to schools that are underfunded, they have inferior health care services, and they are suffering the consequences of this government's broken promises.
What nation crushes the hopes and dreams of children? As a nation, our best resource is the potential of our children. The days of racism and systemic discrimination must come to an end. Reconciliation is not just a word. Reconciliation must become a reality.
I am very proud to rise in this House. What we are discussing today is about the choices we make as a nation, about the legal obligation, but above all it is about the children. I want to note that yesterday in the Manitoba legislature there was a unanimous condemnation of the government's refusal to respond to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
I want to pay tribute to 13-year-old Garrett Tomagatick from Fort Albany, who gave up hope this week and died. I want to thank the Canadian Rangers who were there at his funeral, because they do so much good work in our region. I think of the three others we lost in Fort Albany alone just this year, that beautiful little community. I think of the four in north Saskatchewan. I think of Sheridan Hookimaw, who was ground into hopelessness, and her death touched off the Attawapiskat crisis. We have seen 700-plus children try to kill themselves since 2009 in my region.
We have talked in this House about suicide and it is not specifically the issue of the day, but it is the public manifestation of the hopelessness and the failures that we can trace back through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling to the systemic racist discrimination against children in every area of public service that they are entitled to. I am heartbroken that we even have to stand in this House and force a debate on this issue, because we are talking about compliance with the law.
I think of, this past week, the story of Chanie Wenjack and Gord Downie that has opened Canadians' eyes to reconciliation. But there are hundreds of thousands of Chanie Wenjacks across Canada trying to find their way home now; trying to find their way home to hope, trying to find their way home to identity, and the 163,000 Chanie Wenjacks who want to come home to their families and are in a broken and badly underfunded child welfare system.
When the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in January that the government was guilty of systemic and racist discrimination against children, it shone a light on that broken system, and the tribunal ordered immediate money to be put into that underfunded system. What the government responded with in March was its budget, in which it promised $71 million. When the shortfall was over, $200 million had been identified. The current government that spent $7 billion this past summer on flagpoles, tennis courts, and good-time announcements could not find the money to meet its legal requirements to keep children protected.
Then we find out that the government actually never even bothered to respond to the compliance orders. It simply brought forward numbers that had been put together by the department of Indian affairs in the dying days of the last government. It says it responded to the tribunal, but no; it continued to ignore it.
What does this mean for children on the ground? There have been more than 2.6 million sleepless nights for children who have been away from their families since the tribunal ruling. There are stories that connect the broken child welfare system to the hopelessness and deaths of children. Tina Fontaine was taken from her family and found in a bag in a Winnipeg river.
We think of Azraya Kokopenace of Grassy Narrows, whose little brother died from mercury poisoning. One of the effects of mercury is depression, apparently, so she ended up needing help, but the broken child welfare system did not help her and her family. It put her into foster care. The poor little girl ended up on the streets, dealing with police; she was put in a hospital one night with no oversight or adult to look after her; she walked out and they found her body later.
It is said that a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. How do the hearts of women end up on the ground? It is when their children are taken. That was what the white conquerors figured out first off, and it is happening today. I talked to a mother the other day, who asked, “How do I sleep at night when I don't know where my babies are?”
We learned recently, in British Columbia, that there are horrific levels of sexual abuse against children in the child welfare system, the vast majority of them indigenous children. In Alberta, studies show that more than 741 children in the child welfare system died between 1999 and 2003, the vast majority of them first nation children.
Raven Sinclair told the Calgary Herald there was nothing accidental about these shocking deaths. She said, “There are an incredible number of kids dying in care each year. This isn’t just an accident. It is not a fluke of statistics. It is happening year after year”.
The other thing that was ruled on was Jordan's principle. We voted in the House for the principle for Jordan River Anderson, the little boy who died in the hospital and never got home because the feds and the province argued about jurisdiction. The House passed a motion saying that all first nation children should be eligible for medical services, and the government is now at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal arguing about what that means. It is saying it will agree to pay for treatment for children who are badly handicapped on reserve, but not other children, and it will continue to fight.
What does that look like to children? I will give the example of Pictou Landing First Nation, in 2011, almost bankrupting itself trying to fight to get home care for a badly handicapped little boy. The government's case was thrown out because the justice recognized that the government had supported Jordan's principle, so it could not actually deny this child care. The government appealed it and actually wanted the family to pay its court costs.
We saw, through the tribunal, the ruling in internal documents in 2012, about a child who needed a special bed to keep from suffocating. Health Canada wrote on the report “Absolutely not”, and the doctor had to pay for it.
The new government is saying it will deal with those cases; it will accept the ruling and remain in compliance. However, other children will continue to be denied. On the very day that this ruling came down, the health minister's department turned down the third-round appeal for special orthodontic surgery for a little girl from Alberta.
At the time, Health Canada denial rates for orthodontic appeals were 80% in the first round, 99% in the second round, and a full 100% in the third round. Tell me that is not systemic denial of services to children. However, with the new government, it has gotten worse. It is now 99% denials in the first round for orthodontic surgery, 99% at the second level, and 100% at the third level. How can government members stand in the House and say they are going to support children when they are actually fighting that family in court?
In fact, the health minister decided that there was a better way to spend taxpayers' money. She spent three times the amount of money on lawyers in the justice department to fight that little girl's family than it would have cost to provide the medical care.
That is what systemic, racist discrimination looks like. I want to see the government stand up today and tell us that little girl in Alberta will not have to worry that her teeth are going to fall in because she is being denied service while government lawyers fight her family. This is not a question that is asking for something unfair. This is about compliance with the law.
In my final moments, I want to talk about the suicide crisis we are seeing. When the little girl from Grassy Narrows died, what we heard was that there were no mental health services. What I have seen in northern Saskatchewan and heard elsewhere is that they could not get the treatment or they were denied the treatment.
I asked an official at Health Canada if the department tracked the young people who were turned down or the delay rates. He said, “Yes, we are very concerned about mental health. Yes, to answer your question, the department does have records of people.” I asked if he would share those statistics, and he said the department would be happy to provide those statistics.
We wrote to the department and asked it to provide the statistics tracking the young people who were being denied health services and who were facing suicide. The department wrote us back, saying that Health Canada was unable to provide data on the number of requests and approval rates.
Health Canada does not track the children it rejects. What kind of system does not even bother to keep track of the children under its responsibility? That is why children are dying. That is why children are ending upon the street. That is why the government has been found guilty of racist, systemic discrimination against children.
What we are hearing now is that change is incremental, that we should not worry because it will get better over time. I am sorry, but the communities we represent should not have to crawl and fight for inches of ground when children are suffering, when children are being denied their greatest potential.
What we are asking for through the compliance orders of the Human Rights Tribunal is actually peanuts compared to what the government would be willing to spend on other things. What kind of nation thinks it can squander the hope and potential of their children? What kind of government believes it is above the law, when we are talking about racist discrimination, systemic discrimination against children?
It is a question of what kind of Canada we are going to be in 2016. Children only get one childhood. Once it is gone, it can never come back. I am urging my colleagues in the House of Commons to do the right thing. What we are asking here is not the opinion of the New Democratic Party, these are the findings of the Human Rights Tribunal that affects all of our nation. We can do better as a nation if we are willing to put the needs of the children first.
At the beginning, I spoke about the young children we have lost. I do not want to come in here to do another motion in the name of a child who was lost because of systemic laziness. I want us to be promoting the children who are going to go on and create the kind of Canada that we need.
However, we need to see the government recognize that it has legal responsibilities, that it has to meet these terms that have been laid out, the full implementation of Jordan's principle. It needs to stand up in court and say that it will no longer fight families in court, that it will meet that shortfall in child welfare that has been identified this year as $155 million, and that it will explain to the Canadian public why it did not even bother to crunch numbers in response to the Human Rights Tribunal. It just pulled a set of numbers off the shelf and handed it off, pretending it was its own. It is like stealing someone else's homework and thinking it will be patted on the back for it. It is not acceptable.
The $71 million this year does not cut it. The amount of money the government has put aside for next year does not cut it. It does not meet the shortfalls that have been identified. This is the final element of our motion, that the government needs to come forward with the documents to prove whether it has been studying this at all or is just making up numbers out of thin air.
I have enormous respect for the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I know she wants to support the motion. I also know that the Prime Minister gets his advice from Michael Wernick. That is the man who has the Prime Minister's ear. Michael Wernick fought the legal case against Cindy Blackstock, tooth and nail, for nine years.
I want to see the government putting the interests of children first for a change, and not the interests of the finance minister or Michael Wernick. This is about the children. We need to do this.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here on Algonquin territory to speak to the motion by the member for Timmins—James Bay. I want to thank the hon. member for affording me the opportunity to discuss this truly important issue, to address any misunderstandings, and to update the House on the progress we are making.
As minister, I have been mandated by the Prime Minister to engage in a renewed nation-to-nation process with indigenous people to make real progress on the issues most important to indigenous people, including child welfare.
We promised to establish a new relationship with indigenous people and a new way of doing things. We intend to keep our promise.
Our priority as parliamentarians and as responsible Canadians must be first and foremost the health, well-being, and protection of indigenous children.
All Canadians want children to have the best chance in life. First nations children, however, do not always have the same access to quality health and social services. They too often have been apprehended and placed in situations where they have suffered abuse. They have been removed from their culture and have therefore lost their personal cultural identity, which is essential for optimal health, education, and economic outcomes. This is shameful and has to change.
For years I have been outspoken on the need to reform this system. The fact that there are more children in care than at the height of the residential schools is heartbreaking.
The first five recommendations of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognize the need for all of us to work together to close that gap. I intend to honour that commitment and take action immediately.
The hon. member has placed his motion in the context of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision on child and family services. I want to state clearly that the government welcomed the decision of the tribunal, and we are working to implement its findings, including ending the discriminatory practices identified by the tribunal, but we were working on this regardless of what the tribunal said about the need to make the reforms.
In my view, one of the most important factors in that discrimination is the overrepresentation of indigenous children in care. These children are separated from their families, at risk of losing their culture and identity and language, and even worse, of facing abuse and violence, as was demonstrated in the member's speech. It is the current system that causes this, and we can and will do better by these children.
The tribunal has said that it believes that the federal government is “determined to reform the entire FNCFS Program and believes it intends do so”. We are, and we will.
The Minister of Health and I have been working very hard every single day to ensure that first nations children have access to the health and social services they are entitled to.
Last December, at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly, I committed to working toward an overhaul of the child welfare system on reserve. I meant what I said that day. We are committed to nothing less than a full-scale reform of child and family services on reserve and are undertaking that reform in partnership with the provinces and territories and first nations.
We are actively reaching out to partners across the country to jointly develop options for reform. This includes working in partnership with first nations organizations, leadership, communities, front-line service providers and agencies, non-governmental organizations, other federal departments, and the provinces and territories, to meaningfully reform the first nations child and family services program.
We need transformational change. The goal of the child welfare system must be to reduce the disproportionate number of children in care, full stop. The member spoke to the need for reform, but unfortunately, that is not in the motion.
As a first step, we need to end the funding discrimination endemic in the first nations child welfare system. Budget 2016 announced an investment of $634.8 million over five years to support the immediate needs of first nations children on reserve. This included $71 million in immediate relief investments for first nations child and family services. The immediate relief was focused on providing additional enhanced prevention services in every province and the Yukon territory.
We agree with the tribunal that future funding must not be based on an arbitrary formula or figure created behind closed doors in Ottawa. Rather, it must be based on the actual day-to-day needs of agencies. It must be based on what it will take to operationalize transformational reform and keep kids out of care and in their communities.
We also agree that Jordan's principle applies to all first nations children, and we are already applying its full meaning and scope. Children are getting their needs met.
I am proud to report that, since the changes implemented last July, nearly 900 children from every province and territory have been designated to receive services under the expanded definition of Jordan's principle. Those children would not have had access to those services in the past.
These are concrete first steps in addressing the most pressing concerns. However, it is not only about money. Building something new, something different, means that we need to talk to the people who are most involved. This new approach means moving forward in our relationships.
We want to be accountable for results: keeping more families together and reducing the number of kids in care. It is no longer satisfactory that the federal government pays the provinces and Yukon to deliver services without any say in the results.
The current system has left kids suffering and taken them from their families and communities. One need look no further than the recent report by the B.C. child advocate to see the tragic results of how this system fails kids.
We heard time and time again during our consultations on the design of the national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls about the direct connection between the failure of the child welfare system and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It has affected both the children who were taken and the women and mothers who were left behind.
There is the story of Reina Foster, who I was lucky enough to spend the day with in early October as part of the celebration of International Day of the Girl.
Reina was put in foster care when she was just two. It was the first of six foster homes she lived in, during which she both witnessed and experienced abuse. As I said that day, Reina spoke truth to power in a very poignant way. It reaffirmed my understanding of the need to listen to people who are affected by policies like child welfare.
We have been listening to the concerns of first nations communities and organizations regarding the child welfare system. We agree that it needs a total overhaul, and we are taking action.
On September 22, I was pleased to appoint Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux as my special representative responsible for leading the engagement process on the total reform of the on-reserve first nations child and family services program. Dr. Wesley-Esquimaux is a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island first nation in Ontario and is the chair of truth and reconciliation at Lakehead University. She has spent her whole career advocating for and advancing the rights of indigenous peoples. This appointment represents a key step in our commitment to engage with all the provinces and territories and all partners for the full-scale reform of the first nations child and family services program.
This is important, as we need to transform the system with the benefit of hearing directly from youth, incorporating their lived experiences into any new approach. The voices of the children who participated in the Feathers of Hope gathering echo in my ears every day. The feather they gave me sits on my desk, reminding me of this important work on a daily basis. They told me their difficult stories of abuse, of being separated from siblings, and of being told that their culture, their beliefs, and their traditions were inferior.
We have taken a number of concrete steps. Dr. Wesley-Esquimaux has begun consultations on reform, which will run from coast to coast to coast. This afternoon she will be meeting with all the provincial child advocates.
We are surveying all agencies to better understand their unique and individual needs and circumstances, and we are committed to identifying best practices that achieve real and culturally appropriate results for kids.
These models include things like Touchstones of Hope, championed by Cindy Blackstock, and the Maori family conferencing model, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, in Manitoba.
The federal government is also a full partner at tripartite meetings with the provinces and the Yukon, first nations, and agencies to discuss real reforms in the system.
We are funding indigenous regional organizations to hold meetings and gather strategic information that can inform the reform process. We will be meeting with child advocates and other provincial and Yukon stakeholders.
We are working to re-establish the national advisory committee to provide advice on the engagement process and the reform of this program. The committee will include representatives from the federal government, the Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, agency directors, and an elder and youth representative.
We are also planning for a national summit on indigenous child welfare in early 2017. The summit will bring together key stakeholders and hear from youth in care, service providers, child advocates, first nations community representatives, researchers, and others who will share information about wise practices in prevention and how to support children and families.
There is a federal-provincial-territorial working group, involving senior officials who work on child and family services, to share information and best practices. I will also be working with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to launch consultations with provinces and territories and indigenous peoples on a national early learning and child care framework.
We know how important affordable, high-quality, flexible, and fully inclusive child care is, but we also know that for indigenous children, care must be culturally appropriate in support of their language and culture.
I can say with conviction that our concrete measures will help put an end to these discriminatory practices.
We have taken real steps to, in the Gitxsan phrase, upright the canoe.
We know that real reform does not happen overnight, but we must be relentlessly focused on driving this reform. We have to understand that removing first nations children from their families, from their communities, and from their language and culture creates lasting damage.
This was what was meant by the motto of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: For the child taken, for the parent left behind. That must be and will be our motto as we reform the system once and for all and put first nations kids first.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Peace River—Westlock.
Today we are speaking to the NDP motion on the Human Rights Tribunal ordering an end to discrimination. The member has four components to his motion. He calls for some immediate investments and a funding plan to address some shortfalls. The motion calls for the full implementation of Jordan's principle, which as members are aware, we passed a unanimous motion in support of on December 12, 2007. The member talks about full compliance with the Human Rights Tribunal's orders and for the government to stop fighting indigenous families in court and to cover the costs of services. The final component is about the availability of pertinent documents.
I just want to give one example. It is perhaps a bit dated, but it really illustrates how unfair the system can be at times. I provided service in a small rural community. There was an on-reserve component and an off-reserve component. I can remember a young man who lived off reserve and had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He was increasingly losing his mobility and ability to breathe. The province provided wraparound services for this young teenager, who tragically died. It provided him with support around the clock, including equipment and ventilation. He was able to stay in his home for the final months of his life with a complete set of wraparound services from the province. There was a similar young child on reserve nearby, but we did not have access to that same support and services for that child. So we had two children with horrific disabling illnesses but who truly had different levels of service. That is not okay in Canada. Clearly, that experience is a little dated, but from what we are hearing today we have not gone where we need to go with this.
I want to start with the first part of the motion calling for an infusion of dollars. It really has been portrayed as an infusion of dollars to deal with short-term emergency needs. The minister said that if they spend more money on a bad system, it is bad money. I am sorry, but if they are providing the same level of support as in the example I gave, I do not consider that to be spending bad money. Normally my party and I are reluctant to call on the government to spend additional money, because, frankly, the current government has an incredible spending problem. It has a real lack of restraint in how it is spending money, with the deficit going from $10 billion to $30 billion to $35 billion. But there are times when there is an exception, and clearly in this case we are talking about the most vulnerable children in Canada and the tribunal's ruling that found systemic discrimination in welfare programs from underfunding of people on reserve compared to those off reserve.
I want to point out something else. Again, we are reluctant when we call on the government, and do not do it lightly, when we say it needs to spend more funds. But the current government, in its first 100 days of office, committed to spending $4.3 billion outside this country. The Liberals have done nothing to deal with a crisis in Canada with our most vulnerable children. I find it very troubling. Yes, we need to do our part in the world, but we have spent $4.3 billion outside the country compared to the much smaller amount of funding we are asking for here.
The Liberals point to the $634 million. I asked the minister a specific question about the $634 million that they have actually committed, but what she neglected to mention is that over half the money is not going to come until after the next federal election. It is all very nice to throw out large numbers and to make it look like perhaps they are going to do something and that they are concerned, but this spending will be after 2019.
It is important to note that while we are calling for additional dollars, this must be accompanied by the new policies that will ensure the funds are used effectively and that there is full accountability.
Ultimately, we support the notion that there needs to be a restructuring of the service, but we also call for full transparency on what the government is doing, where it is going, and how it is going to get there. I continue to be very concerned about the government's unwillingness to have indigenous organizations be responsible and transparent to their people.
Members have heard me regularly talk about the First Nations Financial Transparency Act and how community members are desperate for the information. The same goes for child welfare services. As the system is transformed and as dollars get spent, there needs to be a mechanism so we know what is being done.
Also, the Liberals are pretty good with their words, rhetoric, and glowing terms. I look back with pride at the practical things our government accomplished. Against resistance, we had human rights applied on reserve. We passed matrimonial real property rights. We talk about the need for water, and there is a lot of recent focus on water infrastructure. In actual fact, the Conservatives provided more dollars per year over our term. The Liberals promised $360 million and over the same time frame, the Conservatives spent $400 million.
In spite of the talk about how the government is trying to improve things, when push comes to shove, the Conservative government spent more dollars.
We can look at mental health services. The Conservatives budgeted $300 million in 2015-16 for mental health. The Liberals have currently budgeted $271 million. Canadians should dive into the details, and look a little beyond some of the talk.
We know that we need to do something with the first nations education system. The Conservatives committed dollars; the Liberals committed dollars. The difference is this. Like every Canadian province and territory, there is education legislation in place to ensure that minimum standards are met for education, core curriculum, and graduation requirements. There are dollars going forward, but these dollars will not have a framework, the kind that is expected in every province and territory.
I want to talk a little about Jordan's principle, which we all have supported. First nations children should have the same rights, access to services, and opportunities as every other Canadian child. The child first policy for jurisdictional disputes involving the care of first nations is simply unacceptable.
I want to give another example. I go back a little ways in terms of my communities that were both on and off reserve. This is about a mother with a new child. The mother had FASD. The infant was failing rapidly. As we explored, we learned the mother had no money and she did not realize that the substitution of Coffee-mate and water was not the same as formula. Again, the discrepancy of what happens on reserve and what happens off reserve with respect to identifying the mother and putting those supports in place is simply unacceptable.
Today we are talking about something that is very important. The Liberals are busy talking about working with the provinces on the new health accord that must be in place, that they have to tell the provinces how they can deliver care better. The federal government is responsible for delivering health care to aboriginals, to veterans, and to many groups. Perhaps we should be listening to the provinces on how we might do a better job in the communities and the people for whom we have a direct responsibility. Rather than directing the provinces, they could be giving us a little direction in what we are doing.
The NDP members have brought forward a significant motion. In general, the Conservatives would be reluctant to suggest that money is urgently needed, but in this case, the NDP has put something forward that is reasonable, appropriate, and a way to protect our responsibility in the short term, which is to protect the most vulnerable in indigenous communities, especially children.
Mr. Arnold Viersen (Peace River—Westlock, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion of my fellow colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay.
I would like to commend Cindy Blackstock for her work on this issue. Her and I have had conversations over the years. We do not necessarily always agree on the method of getting to where we want to go, but I can say definitively that we both share the same ideas of where children in our Canadian society need to be. Once again, I commend her for her work on this and look forward to continuing to work with her to bring forward the change she is advocating for and doing a tremendous job on as well.
I would also like to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for his tireless work on this issue. I sit on the northern and aboriginal affairs committee with him. The wealth of knowledge he brings to the table is incredible. His passion is unparalleled. While we do not necessarily always agree on the method of getting to the goal we both share, we do work hard together to ensure we do make progress on these issues.
The actions in his motion were brought to us by the Human Rights Tribunal. In the motion, the first thing he says is that we need to immediately start investing the $155 million in the delivery of child welfare, as identified by Cindy Blackstock.
Interestingly, in the government's first 100 days, it committed to spending $4.3 billion outside Canada. However, we could have taken some of that $4.3 billion and spent it here.
As my colleague before me stated, typically, we are not in the business of saving money. The government should spend money on things. In this case, we could have moved that money away from, perhaps, vanity projects outside the country to projects inside the country, on the people for whom it could make the greatest difference.
Typically, aboriginal children who are dealing with the health care system as it is, in all its patchwork across the country, are some of the low-hanging fruit. We would get good value for our dollars spent in this area. We could make a significant change.
It is interesting to see the government spend billions of dollars outside of the country when we have significant problems at home.
The government said that it was making historic investments. The term “historic investments” is somewhat a hazy term. When I hear that, I think it is making unprecedented investments or investments that are larger than ever before. However, perhaps what the Liberals meant by “historic” was that they were making investments similar to Paul Martin or Jean Chrétien. It is part of a game the government likes to play. It uses euphemisms that people think mean one thing, but then the government says that it did not mean it, that it means something else.
It did the same thing with respect to Canada Post. The government said that it had put a moratorium on community mailboxes. People took that to mean they would get their door-to-door delivery reinstated. When people asked about the door-to-door delivery coming back, the government said that it would not be coming back, that it meant that no further community mailboxes would be built.
That is another part of the game that is being played here. The government says it is making historic investments, and we all thought it was going to make larger investments than ever before. I will mention a specific project. The water project, for example, involved bringing potable water to all first nations homes. Our previous government had committed $400 million for that project in our last budget. In budget 2016, the Liberals only committed $360 million. The investments are historic in the fact that they are going backward. I am not quite sure how that makes any sense.
I would like to think that we made progress. Being the government is hard work. Everybody wants everything immediately. As my colleague said, we can be proud of our record. We did not fix the entire system, but it has been broken for 100 years, and we did make progress. Incrementally, we fixed a number of things.
My colleague who spoke before me mentioned how we brought human rights to first nations, how we brought matrimonial property rights to first nations, how we worked on the water situation, how we began the hard work of overhauling the education system on reserves, and how we worked on the issue of mental health. We made some progress on all of these issues. Yes, it did not happen as fast as we would have liked. We definitely would like to see things progress much further, so that the line between our indigenous people and the rest of Canada, if I may put it that way, would disappear, and we would all be Canadians. Our government made progress on a lot of those things.
The Liberals, on the other hand, make more promises for consultation. It is nice that they say all the right words, but I have not seen any indication that we are making any progress. In some respects we have gone backward a bit by the fact that the minister has said she is not going to enforce the accounting transparency law that we put on the books. That has its own issues, as well, in that we undermine the whole rule of law in Canada when we say we have this law on the books and are not going to enforce it. If the Liberals do not like a certain law then they should repeal it, but we undermine the law when we do that.
One thing that is important for me is education. A lot of the issues we deal with can be helped along this road of progress if we can fix the education system on reserves. One of the ideas that has been brought to my attention is to perhaps go to some sort of voucher system, which would allow parents the choice to lead their children's education. This would take away some of the bureaucratic sluggishness that comes with the current system that we deal with, which is very much a top-down approach. Some sort of voucher system would allow parents to choose which stream of education they would like their children to go into. I was in Clyde River in Nunavut recently. There is a very nice school there that is doing amazing work, but it is having trouble getting all its students in there.
I will be supporting the motion, and I look look forward to seeing what the government will do on it. All of us are seized with this issue. This is the children of our nation we are talking about and their health care. I will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleague from Timmins—James Bay. We have our differences, but we do stand together on our goals for the outcome.
Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise to speak to this motion. I will be sharing my time with the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
We are here today debating a very important motion, a motion that relates to the right of all Canadian children to have a childhood. Specifically what we are calling for is, first, the immediate investment of an additional $155 million in new funding for the delivery of child welfare as identified in the shortfall this year; second, establishing a funding plan for future years that would end the systemic shortfalls in child welfare, as ruled by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal; third, implementing the full definition of Jordan's principle; fourth, fully complying with all orders of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal; fifth, committing to stop fighting indigenous families in court, and instead spend those dollars on their medical and social services; and finally, making public all pertinent documents related to the overhaul of the child welfare system and the implementation of Jordan's principle.
Why is this action necessary?
We had, in January of this year, the historic ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. That tribunal ruled that the Canadian government had racially discriminated against 163,000 first nations children in systematically underfunding services to them, therefore putting those children at risk far and above other Canadian children. The tribunal ruled clearly that the underfunding amounted to systemic racism.
The executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Cindy Blackstock, of whom many in this place have spoken glowingly—and she certainly is a hero for Canadian children—has said there is something seriously wrong that she would have to pursue this critical right over an entire decade in the courts, simply for the rights of first nations children to have the same rights as other Canadian children. I think that certainly everybody in this place would agree with that. She continues by saying that they are speaking of first nations children among Canadian children who are left to believe in truth that they are less worthy than others in this country. If there is anything that can pull at our heartstrings, it is when Cindy shares that indigenous children have said to her that they feel they are worth less because they are receiving fewer services.
As others have said, the federal government is spending millions of dollars in opposing the delivery of rights to indigenous Canadians and against delivering on Jordan's principle instead of actually delivering those services. We firmly believe, and I am sure all Canadians believe, that it makes far more sense in wise spending of taxpayer dollars to spend them on delivering the very services that families need instead of on taking the families to court.
Finally, the most important thing is that it is time for the current government to set an example for everybody else in this country and actually comply with the rulings ordered against it. Reprehensibly, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has had to twice issue directives to the government to comply with its order.
Here we are today with a new Liberal government that promised immediate action. It was a number-one priority, nation to nation, that it would deliver on the needs and the rights of first nations children and their families. Yet we have that very government failing to even comply with the directives of the tribunal to deliver this mere $153 million.
We have a situation of the tribunal having twice over issued the compliance orders to the government merely to comply with the law, an order to the federal government to ensure comparable services to indigenous children. What is important to point out is that, not only did the government fight the right of first nations children to have comparable services, but it fought the right and power of the tribunal itself to even consider the case; and then fought Cindy Blackstock, who brought that case, against her access to documents. In all three cases, she won against the Government of Canada. Millions upon millions of dollars were wasted fighting this case over a decade, when the government simply could have delivered the dollars to Canadian children.
What is Jordan's principle? We have spoken a lot about that in here. That arose because of a New Democratic Party motion in 2007, unanimously supported by the House of Commons.
Essentially it is quite simple. Everybody in this place in 2007 committed that all medical services would be delivered to aboriginal children and that they would not be left in the quandary where a young aboriginal child, Jordan, died while the federal and provincial governments argued over who was responsible for paying for his services. The decision was, whoever has the first contact with the child, delivers the service and they worry later about who pays. That decision by the House is consistent with Canadian children's human rights, their constitutional rights, and their treaty rights.
The tribunal held that the government has since that date systematically limited that duty in responding to medical needs. As we heard my colleague from Timmins—James Bay say earlier on, we now have a case where indigenous children are seeking medical assistance, dental assistance, and we are at the state where there is almost 100% denial every time they come forward with these special medical needs.
The government has been systematically clawing back Jordan's principle. The tribunal ruled that is not appropriate, that “comparable services” means “comparable services”, and that first nations children living on reserve have the right to comparable access to medical services.
A heartbreaking statistic on failed child welfare comes from my own province. An Alberta study reported that between 1999 and 2013, 145 children in foster care died, and 75% of those children were indigenous. The government later revealed that it was actually 741 deaths, including 24 infants. That surely will spur us to come forward and support the motion. We cannot allow this situation to continue.
Mr. Justice Rosborough, an Alberta judge, found in an inquest into the death of a baby in the Samson Cree First Nation:
|| It would appear that there is a significant disparity in the level of funding provided for children “off reserve” as opposed to those “on reserve”.... An archaic funding arrangement with the latter results in considerably fewer resources made available to them.
Raven Sinclair, who is a professor of social services in Saskatchewan, stated that:
|| There are an incredible number of kids dying in care each year.... This isn’t just an accident. It is not a fluke of statistics. It is happening year after year.
As many in this place have said, this is not simply a request coming from New Democratic members. That is not what we brought forward in the motion. It is endorsed by credible organizations across this country. The Canadian Paediatric Society has called for immediate action on the Jordan's principle and immediate action on the ruling by the tribunal. It references also the government's commitment to deliver on every recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
What was the commission's number one priority recommendation? It was on the legacy of failure on child welfare. It calls on the federal, provincial, territorial, and aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of aboriginal children in care by providing adequate resources to enable aboriginal communities and child welfare organizations to keep aboriginal families together where it is safe to do so and to keep the children in culturally appropriate environments. Second, it calls on the federal government to prepare and publish reports on the number of aboriginal children in care. As has been mentioned earlier, we do not have those statistics. Third, it calls upon all levels of government to deliver fully on Jordan's principle.
As has been mentioned in this place, the Manitoba legislature last evening unanimously called on the federal government to act and deliver the necessary dollars ordered by the tribunal. The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society, under the direction of Cindy Blackstock, has said and reminded us that children only get one childhood and it is our obligation to make sure they equally get that opportunity. The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations has called on this government to deliver fully and comply with the tribunal direction.
As has been mentioned earlier, within the government's budget deficit of over $30 billion, surely it can find a pitiful $100 million for first nations children.
I ask every member in this place to support the motion and make this the Parliament that finally ended 150 years of discrimination against indigenous children.
Ms. Christine Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion moved by my NDP colleague, the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, whose riding is next to Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
Our ridings share a border, but that border is meaningless to the indigenous communities, in the sense that it was imposed on them and that their ancestral lands lie on both sides of the border. For example, the Timiskaming First Nation ancestral territory is in my riding, but it spills into my colleague's riding of Timmins—James Bay because these borders were established long after these territories were.
This motion calls on the government to comply with the historic ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering the end of discrimination against indigenous children. We are calling on the government to immediately reinvest an additional $155 million for the delivery of child welfare that has been identified as the shortfall this year alone. We are also calling on the government to establish a funding plan for future years that will end the systemic shortfalls in first nations child welfare.
Furthermore, we want the government to implement the full definition of Jordan's principle as outlined in a resolution passed by the House on December 12, 2007. The government must fully comply with all orders made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and commit to stop fighting indigenous families in court who are seeking access to services covered by the federal government. Paragraph (d) of the motion calls on the government to make public all pertinent documents related to the overhaul of child welfare and the implementation of Jordan's principle.
Jordan's principle gives priority to the child's interests and is named after Jordan River Anderson, a Cree child from Norway House, in Manitoba. He was born with complex medical needs and unnecessarily spent more than two years in hospital because the Province of Manitoba and the federal government could not agree on who should pay for his home care. Jordan passed away in hospital when he was five and was never able to spend a single day at home, even though that would have been possible with appropriate home care.
Unfortunately, payment disputes between federal and provincial governments over services to first nations children are all too common. First nations children are often kept waiting for services they desperately need or denied services available to other children in the areas of education, health, day care, recreation, culture, and language.
Anyone who tries to understand the federal government's logic is in for a surprise. The list of prescription drugs and treatments eligible for reimbursement is not the same for all groups of people under federal responsibility. The government does not reimburse veterans, serving military personnel, and members of first nations for the same drug list.
It is the same government in all cases, and Health Canada is in charge of approving all prescription drugs available for sale in Canada, but the list of drugs eligible for reimbursement depends on a person's status.
I have had several conversations with the doctor in Malartic who is in charge of public health. He told me how confusing prescribing drugs to aboriginal people can be because they are covered for fewer drugs than whites. It is a discriminatory administrative nightmare that causes doctors a lot of problems.
In many cases they prescribe treatments that might work, but that are not ideal in a given situation. Patients do not get the best possible treatment, and people have to deal with red tape.
According to Jordan's principle, the government that has first contact pays for the services and seeks reimbursement later so that children are not trapped in a bureaucratic quagmire involving different levels of government. That makes sense.
Patients should not have to fight these battles back and forth, especially when we are talking about patients who are pre-school aged children. These battles often go on and on between the various governmental jurisdictions.
It just makes sense to ask that medical services be paid, to ensure that patients receive care as quickly as possible when they need it. The fight to determine who ultimately pays for it, and who reimburses whom, can happen after the fact. It makes no sense to force patients to wait, least of all indigenous children, to determine who is going to pay the bill and whether the cost of treatment will be reimbursed or not, especially when it would be reimbursed in all other cases. It makes no sense.
We are also talking about children who are often critically ill. If treatment is delayed because of red tape, the patient's condition could deteriorate and treatment could wind up being a lot more expensive later, because care could unfortunately become more complicated as time goes on. We could mention antibiotic resistance, for example. Treatment must not be delayed, because the patient's condition could become more complicated, especially if the patient, in this case a child, gets a nosocomial or hospital-acquired infection, because he or she had to wait too long for treatment .
This red tape war against children and parents has to stop. We cannot keep taking people to court for treatments that often cost less than the lawyers' fees. This happens all the time.
People fight tooth and nail in court to get out of paying for treatment only to end up losing because the ruling simply makes no sense, especially when we consider that non-indigenous children are reimbursed for the same treatments by their province and the lawyer fees cost more than the treatment. It makes no sense. It is wasting a dollar to save a quarter.
Nobody is saving money. Most of the time, people's cases are found to be without merit, because these treatments are not experimental. This is pediatric care offered to non-aboriginal children in most hospitals. When it comes to care provided to children, one must be consistent and ensure that aboriginal children receive the same care as non-aboriginal children.
There are five Algonquin communities in my riding of Abitibi—Témiscamingue, which is on Anishnabe land. Some are having a really tough time. In Pikogan, the Abitibiwinnik live near a major centre and have access to services in the town of Amos.
However, some communities in Témiscamingue are very remote. For example, Winneway, which is home to the Long Point First Nation, is about a one-hour drive from hospital if the road conditions are good. If a child from this community needed an ambulance, they could wait a long time and it would be difficult to receive care.
This community is so remote that it does not even have a school. Plans are in the works. Children are currently driven to another village to a school that had been closed. There were some cases of teenagers who were cutting themselves because they were in a school without windows. The quality of food is not always the best because there are no grocery stores in the village. There is only one small corner store that mainly sells frozen foods to be baked because these foods keep longer and do not spoil before they are purchased.
These people face serious challenges with respect to health, and I believe that it is unfair for these children to be penalized because of the federal government's approach, which unfortunately has become a bad practice.
I am out of time and look forward to my colleagues' questions.
Ms. Kamal Khera (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.
The Government of Canada is committed to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples to make progress on issues that are most important to them, including first nations child health. One of the most glaring examples of inequity in Canada is that between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. In this regard, our government recognizes that we need to prioritize the social determinants of health in order to resolve complex health and social issues.
We have started to do this by making historic investments in budget 2016. There is $8.4 billion to improve the socio-economic conditions of indigenous people and their communities. We are also working collaboratively with first nations partners, provinces and territories, and other key stakeholders to ensure access to quality health programs for infants, children, youth, and families in first nations communities.
As we know, indigenous people continue to have significantly poorer health outcomes than other Canadians. For example, the life expectancy gap between first nations and the general Canadian population is 6.7 years. Indigenous heart disease and diabetes rates are considerably higher than those of the non-indigenous population, but the most heartbreaking statistics are indigenous suicide rates, which are among the highest in the world and four times the national average. This situation demands action, and our government is committed to supporting first nations and Inuit children, families, and communities.
We recognize that strategic investments in a child's early years lead to greatly improved long-term outcomes. In 2016-17, Health Canada is investing over $100 million in programs and services that support healthy pregnancies, births, and child development for pregnant first nation and Inuit women, and the families of infants and young children.
The aboriginal head start on reserve program serves over 11,300 children in over 350 first nations communities across Canada. We recognize that through programs such as aboriginal head start, opportunities for indigenous children to learn about their language and culture are important in supporting their knowledge and connectedness to their communities. That can build resiliency and promote better health.
The long-term goal of the maternal child health program on reserve is to support pregnant first nations women and families with infants and young children to reach their fullest developmental and lifetime potential. Similarly, Health Canada is investing funds to prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorder births and to improve outcomes for those affected by this disorder. These investments support first nations and Inuit communities to develop culturally appropriate and evidence-based prevention and early intervention programs, raise awareness, and educate front-line workers and families.
Our government is also supporting work to address the challenge of childhood obesity. This issue is of particular concern for indigenous children and youth, as rates of obesity are significantly higher among this group than the general Canadian population. Indigenous children are becoming obese at a very young age.
Collective efforts to improve access to and the availability of nutritious foods and to create supportive environments that can help improve health outcomes will contribute to addressing the challenges faced by some indigenous populations. This also includes Health Canada's programming, such as the aboriginal diabetes initiative and the nutrition north Canada program. Health Canada is investing $45.8 million in 2016-17 to reduce type 2 diabetes by supporting health promotion and disease prevention activities and services in more than 400 first nations and Inuit communities. This initiative provides access to diabetes prevention, screening, and management services.
Earlier this year, we increased investments in the nutrition north Canada program by an additional $64.5 million over five years, and a further $13.8 million a year in ongoing funding starting in 2021-22, to expand the program so it can support an additional 37 isolated northern communities. Nutrition north Canada provides a retail subsidy to help northerners living in isolated communities get access to perishable, healthy food at lower cost. It also funds community-based nutrition education initiatives.
On May 30, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Health announced that the government would hold engagement sessions with at least 20 communities across the north to listen and learn about how to improve the nutrition north Canada program. Engagement sessions were held between May and June of this year. Other sessions are continuing to take place until November.
Our government recognizes that physical health is only half the battle. This is why we also provide a range of supports to improve mental wellness among first nation children. The brighter futures and building healthy communities programs provide funds to all communities for activities that support improved mental health, child development, parenting skills, and healthy babies. Funding currently supports mental health and well-being programming services in over 400 first nations and Inuit communities.
Unlike the suicide rates of non-aboriginal people, the rates of aboriginal suicide are highest among youth. The well-being of this demographic group is particularly pressing, considering that aboriginal youth under 20 years of age account for over 40% of the aboriginal population, and this figure is rising. The health of these youth literally represent the future health of aboriginal communities.
Our government is also taking action on aboriginal youth suicide. The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy exists to ensure that indigenous families and communities have access to critical support to prevent and respond to this most tragic of problems. The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy supports approximately 138 community-based suicide prevention projects across Canada. The projects are diverse and focus on increasing protective factors, such as resilience, and reducing risk factors through prevention, outreach, education, and crisis response. Indigenous youth suicide is a complex issue with links to individual, family, and community mental wellness; the legacy of residential schools; a lack of access to services; and social determinants of health, such as high unemployment and low income. The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have reconfirmed the intergenerational impacts of Indian residential schools and colonization on mental health, including suicidal behaviour.
In May of this year, in response to the growing urgency of youth suicide, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs adopted a motion to undertake a study on suicide among indigenous peoples and communities. The study is ongoing and will be informed by community visits, youth round tables, and public hearings in several communities across Canada.
In June 2016, the government committed $69 million over three years for enhanced mental wellness as an interim measure to support northern communities. Our government is fully committed to implementing Jordan's principle and is taking action to ensure that first nations children with unmet health and social needs receive the services they need and have access to services that are publicly funded, similar to all the other children in this country. In keeping with Jordan's principle, we are committed to ensuring that the care of a first nations child with health and social needs will continue, even if there is a dispute between governments regarding jurisdictional responsibility.
In closing, I hope I have helped to inform this important discussion today by outlining some of the efforts and partnerships that our government is undertaking to build healthier first nations communities and to contribute to the health and well-being of first nations children in this country. Our government remains committed to working across all sectors of society, including the health sector, to support first nations children having the best possible start in life towards a better future.
Mr. Don Rusnak (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to respond to the motion by the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, here on the traditional Algonquin territory.
Our priority, first and foremost, is the health and well-being of first nation children. Canada is committed to a full-scale reform of first nations child and family services with all of our first nation partners, including first nation children and youth.
We are engaging with the provinces and territories, and with first nation organizations, leadership, communities, and agencies. We will also be working with front-line service providers and other federal departments to develop a long-term strategy to address first nations child and family services, one that is transformative, sustainable, and responsive.
As a first step, the Government of Canada has provided $71 million in immediate relief investments in 2016-17, focused on providing additional prevention services in each province and Yukon Territory.
We also need to look at the full picture for improving social outcomes for first nation children. In addition to the important work we are undertaking to overhaul child welfare on reserve, we are continuing our effort in many other areas, including improving education services, infrastructure on reserve, and housing. All of these efforts work together toward building healthy lifestyles and safe environments for children, families, and communities.
We have promised indigenous people in Canada real results and real change, both in what we do and how we do it.
Over the past year, we have brought a new approach to our relationship with first nation people on the path toward reconciliation. We are upholding our promises, in the spirit of recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
I appreciate the opportunity to explain what has been accomplished and where we are going.
Together with all of our partners, we are making progress on implementing the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We have officially launched a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. We have developed a new approach to Jordan's principle, responding to the needs of first nation children, whereby we are in the process of providing funds for services to close to 900 first nation children.
The Government of Canada signed a memorandum of understanding with the Assembly of First Nations in June to collaborate on developing a new fiscal relationship that provides sufficient, predictable, and sustainable funding for first nations. Making real change requires a new fiscal relationship with first nations, one ne that provides sufficient, predictable, and sustained funding for the communities.
Budget 2016 lifted the 2% funding cap on first nation programs. We are delivering historic investments to improve the social-economic conditions of indigenous people and their communities. Through budget 2016, we are investing $8.4 billion over five years in support of indigenous people across the country, including in first nation education and infrastructure.
Thanks to these investments, housing units will be constructed, serviced, or renovated; new cultural and recreational projects are under way; investments are being made in projects that focus on essential physical infrastructure, like roads, bridges, energy systems, and connectivity; first nation water and wastewater projects are being supported across the country; and education infrastructure projects will help construct, renovate, or maintain schools in first nation communities.
Through funding commitments to improve child and family services, education outcomes in schools, and community infrastructure, we are committing to closing the gap in the quality of life between indigenous people and other Canadians. We are investing in education, literacy, numeracy, skills development, language, and culture.
Budget 2016 provides $2.6 billion over five years for kindergarten to grade 12. That includes $824.1 million to implement first nation-led transformational education.
We are committed to a respectful process of consultation in partnership with our first nations to ensure we get this right, together. To this end, we are working closely with first nations to better understand their long-term funding needs.
The Government of Canada is also increasing the safety and security of women and children through the construction and operation of new shelters serving residents on reserve.
Also, looking to the long term, we know that having a safe environment is key to the well-being of first nations children and families. The family violence prevention program supports the day-to-day operations of 41 shelters, as well as funding for community-driven proposals for family violence prevention projects on and off reserve.
Budget 2016 included $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing to better support shelter services to serve victims of family violence in first nations communities. We also announced $10.4 million over three years to support the renovation and construction of new shelters for victims of family violence in first nations communities. This funding will help to enhance the safety and security of women, children, and families on reserve by providing a refuge for victims of violence, providing more awareness of the issue of family violence, and providing families and communities with the tools they need to help them deal with the issue of violence.
The Government of Canada looks forward to continue working in partnership with indigenous groups, provincial governments, and territories as we all have a role to play in preventing and ending violence against indigenous women and children.
All told, these investments for social programs and infrastructure will close the gap in the social, economic, and health outcomes experienced in too many indigenous communities. We still have a long way forward and it is a path that we as Canadians all need to take together. I am confident we are heading in the right direction.
Ms. Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Salaberry—Suroît, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
The motion put forward by my colleague from Timmins—James Bay is very important to achieving true reconciliation with our country's first nations. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a final ruling in January 2016. The Canadian government was found guilty of racial discrimination against 163,000 first nations children and their families for providing insufficient and inadequate child protection services. This is about 163,000 children. The scope is unprecedented.
Although the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Youth, inherited this issue, the fact remains that his government is not living up to its legal and moral obligation to put an end to the systematic discrimination that indigenous children face.
This whole affair began in 2007 when the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, led by Cindy Blackstock, and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the Canadian government, which was led by the Conservatives at the time.
One year later, in 2008, the government publicly apologized for the forced assimilation of indigenous youth in residential schools. That same year, it refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It took one step forward and two steps back. Unfortunately, the current Liberal government is no different.
While the Liberal government was called upon to take action in January 2016, and it fully accepted the tribunal's ruling, it continues to slow down the process. The tribunal has already issued two orders because the Liberals refuse to comply with the ruling.
The Liberal government did not appeal the ruling and must therefore take immediate action. The government must act, not in a year from now, not two weeks from now, but right now. Nor should it wait until its next term. The government is doing nothing but draw out the debate.
That is why the House must remind the government to respect the basic principle of the rule of law and meet its legal and moral obligation to correct past mistakes, end discrimination against first nations children, and immediately invest $155 million to make up this year's shortfall for delivering services to children.
Speaking of inadequate funding and discrimination, I would like to talk about the Mohawk nation at Akwesasne, which is in my riding. Part of the nation is in my riding in southwestern Quebec, and part of it is in Ontario, but the largest part is in the United States.
The Akwesasne Mohawk people have been fighting for close to 15 years to get official recognition for their child and family services. They got it from the Ontario provincial government in 2012. That recognition enables them to take care of local issues on their own without outside agency intervention. Should getting recognition really take 15 years? I do not think so.
How many children in Akwesasne have suffered while governments dragged their heels? I do not know. However, if even a single child ends up not getting services, that is one child too many. Families and children have suffered while governments argued over who is responsible for providing services. It is unacceptable for the Akwesasne community to have waited so long to get services.
That is why we need Jordan's principle, which states that first nations children should have access to the same government services as non-indigenous children and that jurisdictional disputes should not hinder the delivery of services to children.
This is not the first time we have asked the government to apply Jordan's principle. In 2007, my former colleague, Jean Crowder, moved a motion about that in the House, and it passed. Now, nine years later in 2016, it is a little frustrating to be having the same conversation all over again even though the principle was passed.
As my party's youth critic, I was unpleasantly surprised at the magnitude of mental health problems, particularly among indigenous youth.
Half of on-reserve first nations people say that they experience moderate to high levels of psychological distress. Half of young Inuit deaths are caused by suicide, while the suicide rate is 10% among the rest of young Canadians. The situation will not improve without long-term investment in the health of young indigenous people.
According to Health Canada, mental health is determined by complex interactions between social and economic factors, the physical environment, and individual behaviour. Indigenous communities have it harder than others in every respect.
Norah Kielland and Tonina Simeone associated the prevalence of mental health problems in indigenous communities with the oppression and marginalization that these communities have known throughout their history. The residential school system has had a multi-generational impact on the population. The most recent studies on indigenous peoples have brought some new information to the fore, and the federal government has agreed to implement their 94 recommendations.
To this day, the 150,000 children forced into residential schools still feel the lingering effects of the trauma they suffered. Lost between two cultures and scarred for life by abuse, some victims carried the brutality they suffered with them to their communities and started abusing illicit substances. The impacts of residential schools can still be seen today. First nations children are 12 times more likely to be placed in foster care.
Cindy Blackstock says that far more children are being placed in foster care today than in the days of residential schools because of poverty, unsanitary housing, and addictions The marginalization of indigenous communities is not a thing of the past. The employment rate for indigenous youth is 6.2 points lower than for non-indigenous youth, and nearly 18.8% of the indigenous workforce, or one in five people, did not finish high school. Nearly one in five indigenous people is dealing with food insecurity, which explains the despair of young first nations and Inuit people.
In an article published earlier this month, Cindy Blackstock said:
|| Reconciliation means not saying sorry twice.
I hope the Liberal government will remember those words.
While young first nations people face a number of problems and a rather grim situation, a number of services exist across the country to help them, if we give them the means to access those services.
Consider the case of Akwesasne. Akwesasne Child and Family Services is very well regarded. The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne invited officials from the Court the of Quebec, which has jurisdiction over files involving children, to come to the reserve and see the situation on the ground first-hand. That visit took place in 2015.
In other words, we can improve the lives of young indigenous people by working together. That is not a slogan; that is a fact. It is the duty of the House of Commons to remind the government of its obligation to right the wrongs of the past and not abandon another generation of first nations children.
That is why I am pleased to announce that the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne supports this motion. I am proud to vote in favour of this motion, and I hope all of my colleagues will do the same. When we talk about reconciliation and improving the lives of all Canadians, we have to think about first nations. We need to make sure that the Liberals keep the promises they made here in the House of Commons since the election, and those made during the election.
First nations people have endured enough suffering and discrimination. It must stop. The prejudice and fear of others must stop, so that mutual understanding and healthy relationships between communities can be fostered.
Ms. Georgina Jolibois (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I'm standing in the House today because first nation, Métis, and northern children are hurting. Their families and communities are struggling to make ends meet. They are denied culturally appropriate services. For example, when dealing with children and youth in care, their first languages of Cree, Dene, Michif, and other languages are not even considered and validated in trying to get support for the families.
The realities of northern Saskatchewan are rarely and barely recognized. I represent almost half of the province of Saskatchewan, geographically speaking. For example, northern residents have to travel long distances from home to their destinations. In Sandy Bay in my riding, the community has been struggling with a suicide epidemic for the last decade. The families often travel between six and eight hours to reach Saskatoon, so that they can obtain the required help.
Fond du Lac First Nation is a fly-in reserve in my riding. The cost of the airfare either to Prince Albert or Saskatoon is very expensive. The cost of living, the cost of buying healthy food such as fruits and vegetables, is very expensive. Families simply cannot afford to support their children, youth, and elders.
This year, the grocery store in Pelican Narrows first nation burned to the ground. Since then, the reserve and the nearby communities have no access to groceries because The North West Company has delayed its commitment to rebuild the store. In the meantime, in order to buy groceries, the vast majority of the residents must travel long distances. Imagine; the children and youth are hungry on a daily basis.
Since we have been speaking loudly about the challenges that indigenous communities face in northern Saskatchewan, my office has been receiving phone calls, emails, Facebook and Instagram messages, and correspondence from youth and their families who are eager to share their painful, heartbreaking stories with me. For example, I have been in touch with families and neighbours who are painfully impacted by the most recent four suicides in Stanley Mission and Deschambault Lake first nations. The youngest, 10 years old, died last Tuesday while we await the final rulings on the cause of these terrible tragedies.
We must ask ourselves what our children see. Do indigenous children, girls in particular, see a country that champions their intrinsic importance, in both word and deed? When they watch the news and check their Facebook and Twitter feeds, do they see our various levels of government and those in positions of authority conveying the message that their lives are valued? Let us reflect on these questions as we consider the current state of the overrepresentation of indigenous children across the country and the high rates of missing and murdered indigenous women.
This is why I want to speak in favour of the opposition day motion presented by my colleague the member for Timmins—James Bay. I would like to thank him for his long-time advocacy for first nations and Métis children.
Across Canada and specifically in my riding, first nations, Métis, and northern residents were very hopeful with the language that the Liberal Party was using. Elders were pleased to hear the words “nation to nation”. Children, youth, and their families placed high hopes in the words “real change”. A year later, those very elders and families are frustrated and questioning the Liberal government's commitment to nation-to-nation relationships with first nations, Métis, and northerners. Hope is fading away.
The government fails to acknowledge the sense of urgency in requiring services that our first nations, Métis, and northern communities face. When I was the mayor of the northern village of La Loche, I worked collaboratively with government agencies and the local schools on this very topic. Teenagers from 14 to 18 years of age who were in care, and still are, either go from home to home or they are literally homeless. When I was the chair of the New North association, the mayors and councils of 34 municipalities would share similar stories.
The majority of these children and youth have treaty cards, so they are considered first nations people who live in municipalities. What that means is that they have very little or no support.
This brings me to the topic of the shortage of foster homes in my riding. When a child is apprehended, he or she is either placed in a home that is overcrowded or is taken out of the community to where a foster home is found. For example, when I visited Hatchet Lake First Nation a few months ago, it was shared with me that there was a home that sheltered 21 individuals, including small children. What is more, the foster families support group in northern Saskatchewan has been continuously asking for support to train and work with foster families, to this day.
The court ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on January 25 was clear. The Canadian government was found guilty of racially discriminating against tens of thousands of first nations children by systematically underfunding federal services. The tribunal's ruling called on the Liberal government for immediate, medium-term, and long-term reforms so that children could receive the treatment they deserve. They are innocent children who deserve to feel to safe, to be cared for, and to feel valued, and they deserve to have the same opportunities as everyone else.
In not appealing the decision, the Liberal government accepted all the legal obligations placed on it. However, two compliance orders have been put out by the court because the government has failed to meet its legal and moral obligations to first nations children. In fact, instead of meeting the obligations ordered by the court, the current government has continued to fight first nations children in court.
I ask this again: Where is the commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship the current government promised to uphold, when there is a clear lack of urgency to act on this court ruling?
Speaking of broken promises, failing to comply with the court ruling is in direct disregard of the TRC's call to action on child welfare. This first call to action demands that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments reduce the number of indigenous children in care in Canada. It stipulates that governments provide “adequate resources to enable Aboriginal communities and child-welfare organizations to keep Aboriginal families together where it is safe to do so, and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments, regardless of where they reside”.
Now the tribunal has found that the federal government was discriminating against 163,000 first nations children in its delivery of child-welfare services on reserves. The cumulative outcome of this intentional and discriminatory practice has led to children being removed from families to foster homes and to frequently languishing in non-indigenous child-welfare systems.
One example is the case of Maryann Napope from One Arrow First Nation, who has been fighting for several years to get custody of her grandchildren. There is nothing she would like more than to reunite with them and take care of them, but the foster system has failed her and her family. Her grandchildren were put up for adoption without the consent of the mother. They fell through the cracks of the child foster system. She said that she is committed to continuing to fight to be reunited with her grandchildren. This is one story among many others.
In fact, in Saskatchewan alone, 87% of children in foster care are indigenous. This is a number that is very concerning and could be reduced if the current government adopted once and for all the Jordan principle, as ordered by the tribunal. At its heart, the principle states that first nations children should be able to access the same government services as non-indigenous children and that we must not allow jurisdictional disputes to get in the way of providing services to children.
I would like to conclude by saying that I will be supporting my colleague's motion on Tuesday, and I invite this House to unanimously vote for the motion. A vote for the motion is a vote for first nations children, for their safety, and for their recognition. Parliament must step in and order the government to fix this historic wrong, because we cannot fail another generation of first nations children.
Ms. Yvonne Jones (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all those in the House of Commons today who have contributed to this important debate on children in first nations communities across Canada. I want to add my voice to this debate as well.
Our government promised a new relationship with indigenous people and a commitment to work in partnership to resolve the important issue of discrimination that has impacted indigenous people for generations, especially children.
We on this side of the House are grateful for this debate today, because once again, we can bring to light the issues and the need to reform first nations child and family services programs. This is a goal of our government, one we take seriously, and one we are determined to do. I can assure all colleagues in the House today that we recognize, as a government, that this is urgent work that requires urgent attention.
Our priority is, first and foremost, the well-being of children, and we remain committed to working collaboratively to implement the orders of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which have been stated in the motion provided by the member today. We have made very clear our commitment to improve the outcomes for first nation communities, which is why we have welcomed the tribunal's decision and have worked diligently in partnership to address the orders that have been outlined.
We will not defend the actions of former governments. We will not defend the neglect created by former governments as it relates to indigenous people. Our government is looking forward. We are looking forward to addressing these urgent and important needs of first nations children and first nations communities.
We know that essentially we have a system of child welfare and family services for first nations people in this country that is broken, and it needs to be overhauled. I was hoping today, in the motion presented by the member opposite, that he would speak to the fact that there needs to be a full reform of this system, because I know that he believes that it needs to happen.
Our government believes that meaningful change for first nations children and families can only be successful if all partners are included in developing this path forward, including first nations youth, first nations leadership, first nations children, first nations families, key organizers, service providers, federal departments, and provincial and territorial government departments.
We are committed to a full-scale reform of the program developed with and for first nations, and we are reaching out to all those partners in the country to encourage their contribution and those options for reform. This includes reaching out to members in the legislature, and that is why this debate has become important today in seeking that feedback.
Our government is committed to changing the status quo, and we are taking action to ensure that we get this right for first nations children and families. They deserve to have a government that is not only committed to reforming and transforming child welfare and family services for first nations in this country but that will take action, seek their input, and get this right for them. It is time in this country that we shape reform that is going to benefit the people who really need it.
For far too long, decisions have been made top down. That is why we have the situation we do in this country today. It is why many first nations, Inuit, and Métis communities across our country feel that they have been neglected. Realistically, they have been, not just their children but their communities as a whole. They deserve a government that realizes the urgency of this issue, and they have one in us.
Immediately, this year, we moved to make investments for children and families on reserve. We knew that the investments were needed and urgent.
Through budget 2016, we have made significant investments into first nations children and family service programs with nearly $635 million over five years in new funding, including $71 million this year for immediate urgent relief focused on providing additional prevention services in each province and in the Yukon territory. That was a historic move. It had never happened in any prior government but it happened in this government in less than 12 months because we take our job and our obligations to the indigenous children and indigenous people of this country seriously. We are acting.
In addition to that, through the first nations child and family services program, we have committed urgent investments of up to $382 million over the next three years to implement a new approach to Jordan's principle. This new approach will include enhanced service coordination and a service access resolution fund. These steps will ensure that first nations children have access to the care and supports they need, and that Canada can effectively respond to first nations children and their needs.
I could speak for a lengthy period of time on this issue. However, I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver Centre. I know this is an issue that she is also very passionate about. However, before I finish, there are a couple of things I want to say.
In a country like Canada, there should be no ruling in any court that says that racial systemic discrimination and discriminatory actions toward aboriginal children exist. It is a shameful ruling for any court to have to make in this country. We will be the first government to step up to address this and to ensure that systemic discrimination against children, whether first nations, on or off reserve, Inuit, or Métis, no longer occurs in this country.
The courts made this ruling because of the former government, which for 10 years under Prime Minister Harper did not see the value of investing in first nations, Inuit, and Métis children in this country, in the communities in which they lived, or even in the people who make up those many communities across our country. It continued to cut funding, not improve it. It continued to ignore the plight that children were underfunded and left in poverty in these communities. It is only the government of the day that is stepping up to ask for real reform and to lead real reform in child welfare and family services in this country for first nations people.
We on this side of the House believe that no government should use the court to fight children, but that is what happened with the former government. The Conservatives might have great speeches and a change of heart today, but it is disappointing to know that they also fought these children in court so that they would not have to increase funding to first nations and indigenous children in this country.
We are committed to reform. We are committed to supporting first nations. We will keep working toward that goal. We will keep working to help indigenous families and children.
In my riding, we talk about residential schools and removing children out of communities and we talk about the sixties scoop, but today I look around and there are more children in care in the communities that I represent and many other indigenous communities across the country than we have ever seen before. We have to stop this. We have to help children stay in their own communities, help families stay together, and help children grow up in the culture they are a part of.
I see too many children being taken away or sent away, where non-indigenous families get more money to care for indigenous children than indigenous families do. These are the things we have to fix. This is what we have committed to fix.
I am proud of the work that our government has done for children in first nations, and Inuit and Métis people in this country. We will keep doing it.
Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to be part of this very important dialogue today on first nations children. I want to focus my remarks on their health and well-being and the government's efforts to improve the health and well-being of indigenous children and their families off reserve, but I also wanted to answer some of the other questions that have been put forward by the opposition.
Children are the future of our communities, we know that, and it is critical for us to create positive environments for them that support and encourage their full potential both physically, mentally, and culturally as well as intellectually. We know that indigenous people are young and their numbers are growing at a substantially faster rate than non-indigenous populations in Canada. In fact, in 2011, there were over 120,000 indigenous children in Canada under the age of six and more than 75% of the indigenous population in Canada live off reserve.
We know that indigenous populations are more likely to experience poverty, homelessness, family violence, disability, high rates of chronic and infectious disease, and suicidal ideation. Within this context we have to work together to support these children. I want to stress the word “together”. We, all levels of government, indigenous peoples, and non-governmental organizations have to work together to support the positive health and resiliency of all indigenous children. We have to build systems and supports so that indigenous children are well supported and have healthy families and healthy communities.
Our government recognizes that investing in a child's development at the earliest years leads to greatly improved health outcomes over the long term. That is why we have and are investing $112 million a year in programs to support the health and development of vulnerable children and their families off reserve.
We have a community action program for children, a Canadian prenatal nutrition program, and the aboriginal head start program in urban and non-urban communities, which if I recall, came about during the Chrétien government in 1994, so that has been going for quite a while. These help to equip children to be ready for school, to help children live healthier lives, and to help them have strong mental health throughout the course of their lives. These three programs support family prevention, health promotion, and activities that focus on the vulnerable populations in communities, especially in urban areas where there are urban aboriginal children who we know are at great risk.
The community action program for children and the Canadian prenatal nutrition program, which also helps postpartum mothers, have shown to be experiencing a great deal of good outcomes, so we want to continue with those. The programs address key areas that determine future health outcomes such as healthy child development, nutrition, food security, injury prevention, physical activity, parenting, and mental health promotion.
I would be one of the first to say that even though these programs have achieved some measure of success, they still have not brought us to where we want to go with regard to the best and optimal outcomes for first nations children. These programs offer us a great deal of data and a key platform for transferring evidence-based practices and health knowledge to vulnerable communities, so they act as education and awareness programs that help reach populations that are at high risk in broader health care systems and other systems.
These programs provide social support as well as health support and they help to promote the health and social development of women and their children. Many families we know who use these programs, especially in indigenous communities, face challenging life circumstances such as low income, lone parenthood, social or geographic isolation, living in far-flung areas, and situations of violence, neglect, and tobacco or substance abuse or addiction. All of these present specific challenges that we need to deal with and all of these are actually inherent in the whole history of indigenous peoples and in the way that they have been treated throughout their lifetimes. Getting over that kind of systemic history is a really important challenge and an important part of what we do.
All this does affect the ability of young children to grow up to be participating adults, to grow up to be strong adults full of self-confidence. We still know that there are many other systems that challenge this happening. This is all systemic, so health and social programs alone will not make a difference. It is about educating communities across this country to understand the realities of the lives of indigenous peoples, which impact their children, their families, and their ability to succeed.
Talking about institutions that continue to harbour systemic racism and discrimination against aboriginal people, these are at the heart of what we have to change. It is a very difficult system to turn around. We are working at it and will continue to work at it because we are committed to this.
We know that some programs are helping in the meantime. The Canada prenatal nutrition program is in about 2,000 communities across Canada, representing about 50,000 pregnant women and caregivers who look after children. We are looking at encouraging breastfeeding, higher levels of nutrition, better prenatal care, vitamins to help reach good outcomes in pregnancy, and are looking at reducing alcohol intake and smoking, and at improved maternal health, because we know that good maternal health creates healthy babies and healthy children.
There are six core components, including health promotion, education, school readiness, nutrition promotion, and protection of indigenous language and culture. That is a really important part of what has happened to aboriginal people over the history of this country. They have lost a sense of identity. They have been told that being indigenous, using their language and culture, and beginning to feel free to adopt their cultural practices was wrong and primitive.
Now we have to recognize that it is an important part of getting aboriginal families and children moving forward. It is important to provide these in urban settings, where aboriginal children are just parts of a population and have a tendency to get lost in the shuffle. They go to school and are discriminated against by peers. They go to school and are not ready.
It is a really important commitment that our government has made. It is somewhat like turning the Titanic around in the Rideau Canal. We have such a long way to go. We have so many systems and institutions to try to change. This does not mean that we will not do it, but it does mean it is going to take a longer time to build the partnerships and to educate society as a whole.
At 133 sites across Canada, for example, we are providing this kind of funding for indigenous community-based organizations to help them have daycare systems and programming that will reach parents and children. We are reaching out to some of the most vulnerable children in Canada through this program.
Having been heavily involved with urban aboriginal issues in my city of Vancouver, I know this is really important. We have to get into the schools and the school board system to recognize the needs of aboriginal children. Through some of these programs and head start our government is helping to change the impact on and outcomes for aboriginal kids.
We need to look at how children who participate in aboriginal head start in urban areas can in fact demonstrate that they can do well in school, and will stay in school, including secondary school, and eventually look at perhaps having post-secondary training and education of some kind.
We need to continue to recognize that cultural behaviours and indigenous language acquisition are key parts of helping aboriginal children grow up to be strong, self-sufficient, and self-confident in this country.
I know the opposition motion today talks about commitments to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling. I have focused on health because I am a physician, and this is what I know and what I see. We know that healthy children, mentally and physically, will grow up to be adults who can change their lives.
Nonetheless, I want members to know that as a government we have welcomed, accepted, and are currently putting in place and forming partnerships, are making the necessary changes needed to be able to implement infrastructure, physical and/or social, and are working with other levels of government to implement the tribunal's orders. We are committed to this.
Mr. Murray Rankin (Victoria, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to address the motion before us today.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for North Island—Powell River.
If we had been alive 109 years ago, we would have opened what is now the Ottawa Citizen to find a report by a leading public health physician who had just surveyed the health of children in residential schools. His data included one school whose records showed that 76% of its children had died. At that time in 1907, the Department of Indian Affairs gave less money to fight tuberculosis among all first nations people than was allocated to the City of Ottawa. The report proved that the government knew how poorly aboriginal people were being treated but did nothing to remedy the inequality.
It is heartbreaking that 109 years later we are having the same debate in this place. We are here because in January of this year, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a landmark legally binding ruling finding that the Government of Canada racially discriminates against 163,000 first nations children. That discrimination takes the form of unequal child welfare services on reserve, as well as the failure of the government to give aboriginal children equal access to public services without their falling victim to government red tape. The government has said that it will not appeal that decision, and I applaud it for that, but those are just words. What the children of this country desperately need is action.
It is worth remembering how we arrived here. Over the late 1990s government data showed that the number of aboriginal children going into child welfare had risen 71% over a six-year span because the government had failed to invest in prevention services to keep children safely at home. By 2000 a government report found that children on reserve received 78¢ on the dollar for what non-aboriginal children received. Rather than taking real action, the government commissioned another report. The new report showed that aboriginal children were getting even less. By then it was just 70¢ on the dollar.
That same year, 2005, a young boy was sitting in hospital in Manitoba. Just five-years old, Jordan Anderson had been born with serious health problems. After two years in hospital, his health had stabilized and he was ready to go home for the first time. Most children in this situation would be released to their home with the provincial government looking after their health care expenses, but Jordan Anderson was an aboriginal child and so he remained in hospital as Ottawa and the Province of Manitoba argued over who would pay for his care. While the governments argued, Jordan died, never having spent a day at home.
It is in his memory that we are calling on the government today to fully implement Jordan's principle. This principle is one that would be self-evident to every Canadian, that in disputes between governments over a child's care, the child comes first and the red tape comes second. That means that we pay for a child's health care costs first and then let the adults argue over whose budget should cover it. However, as I will address in a moment, Jordan's principle, which is crystal clear to Canadians, is somehow still controversial to the Liberal government. Dealing with this issue was number three of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, which the Liberal government has pledged to fully implement.
Two years after Jordan Anderson died in hospital, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada filed a case against the Government of Canada with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Within 30 days of filing that challenge, the Harper Conservatives cuts the society's core funding. The society had to reduce its staff by half, do its own janitorial work and the like, but it did not give up. It kept going.
On January 29 of this year, its perseverance finally paid off. I would like to read the words of the tribunal's legally binding ruling. It states, “First Nations children and families living on reserve and in the Yukon are discriminated against in the provision of child and family services” by the federal government. The aim, it said, was not to punish the government but to end that discrimination.
Section 53 of the Canadian Human Rights Act allows the tribunal to order a person found to be discriminating on grounds including race to cease discrimination and to take immediate measures to redress the grievance or prevent future discrimination and to make available to the victims, as quickly as possible, “the rights, opportunities or privileges” that were denied by the racial discrimination.
We have an administrative tribunal making a binding order. Unless and until a binding order of a tribunal is overturned on judicial review or appealed successfully to a court, that is the law of the land. We are not here to talk about whether we comply with it any more than we are here to talk about whether we comply with a court order in a criminal matter. That is the law, unless and until it is overturned by a higher court of authority. There was no such ruling.
Under the authority of that order, the tribunal issued this order to the Government of Canada. It states, “(Indigenous Affairs) is ordered to cease its discriminatory practices and reform [its programs]...to reflect the findings of this decision”. Indigenous Affairs was also ordered to cease applying its narrow definition of Jordan's principle and to take measures to “immediately implement the full meaning and scope of Jordan’s Principle”. That is the binding order of a Canadian administrative tribunal.
It is because the government has failed to take the actions that were ordered, despite two failures to comply with other orders in April and September, that we brought this motion today to the Parliament of Canada. After all, it is in this chamber that the elected representatives of Canadians voted in 2007 to fully adopt Jordan's principle. It was crystal clear.
One of those compliance orders issued against the government noted that Parliament applied the principle to all first nations children, not just those living on reserves, and the government's narrower definition “will likely create gaps for First Nations children and is not in line with the Decision.”
I want to read the most recent compliance order to see if members can pick up any ambiguity in its order. It states, “...consistent with the motion unanimously adopted by the House of Commons, the Panel orders INAC to immediately apply Jordan’s Principle to all First Nations children...”.
Cindy Blackstock once said that government, by its actions, was saying that the government was above the law and first nations children were below it. A vote to support the NDP motion today is about to end that now. It is a vote to equalize the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal children. It is a vote for the principle that, as Canadians, we will set aside our differences and care for our children first. A vote is to stop needlessly fighting families in court, and that clearly has to be addressed immediately.
Refusing to obey the orders of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is simply not an option for the government. They are legally binding, they are morally binding, and more delay, more consultations, and more reports will not fix it. We have to do better. We have to do better for the children of Canada, all children, non-aboriginal and aboriginal alike.
Ms. Rachel Blaney (North Island—Powell River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand in the House today to speak to a motion that outlines the very core importance of making indigenous children a priority in Canada.
Today I speak in remembrance of my Granny Minnie, who spent years of her life in residential school at Lejac Indian Residential School, from the age of four to sixteen. She told me, “We cannot complain because we are still here. Never forget we are still here”.
I also speak in remembrance of my father, who did not go to residential school but lived with the impacts every day, both in his family and in the world around him. He reminded me as a young girl that the cowboys and Indians shows were wrong, that actually the Indians were the good guys.
I speak for my husband, who went to residential school in Mission and who used to stare outside his window every day, looking at the river pretending it was the ocean where he grew up; who several years ago carved a beautiful mask called “Taking the Indian out of a child”, which we know was the history of our country and now stands as a reminder to all the children who go to school at Southgate Middle School in Campbell River.
I also speak on behalf of my children and grandchildren, who have all come to speak to me about the racism they face in this world.
One particularly powerful story was of a time when my son, who was in grade four, was sat down during a library class. The teacher presented a picture and asked the children in the class to tell her about that picture. My son of course knew immediately that it was a group of children who were in residential school. What shocked him the most was the fact that none of the other students knew. When they looked at the picture of sad children, the other students had suggestions that maybe the children were sad because they had missed a field trip, or they did not get what they wanted for lunch. All that pressure and pain was growing in my son as he realized they did not know the history. He finally said, “Maybe it's because these are residential schoolchildren who want to go home to their families”.
I also speak for my Auntie Dean, who is our hereditary chief from Stelako First Nation from, the Caribou Clan.
This summer, I and my staff, in our commitment to reconciliation, took part in a training at the Comox Bighouse, called “It Takes a Village”. It is an experiential training that connects people who have not had the experience with what really happens to children when they go to residential school and, also important, what happens to communities when their children are gone.
I remember one of the elders telling me to think about it, to think about living in my community and every child between the ages of three and sixteen was suddenly gone and what that would do to my community. At that event, the elders gave me a feather that I keep in my desk. It reminds me that I speak on behalf of the people of North Island—Powell River. Therefore, I also stand here for Alberta Billy, James Quatell, Evelyn Voyageur, Mary Everson, Jo-Ann Restoule, Phil Umpherville, David Somerville, and the trainers Kathi Camilleri and Meredith Martin.
This history gives me a beautiful burden to speak to today's motion. What all of these important people have in common is that everything they do in their life is for the children. They know the children are our future. We need to reflect the reality in the House and make a real difference for these children who have suffered generation after generation. We have to be brave enough to stand up and say that we are willing to take the next step to ensure it stops here. It is time to make it clear in the House today that aboriginal children matter.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the Canadian government racially discriminated against tens of thousands of first nations children in systemically underfunding federal services that put their lives at risk. Here is one of the most painful questions that so many indigenous people have shared with me, “When will our children matter?”
In fact, the court has already put out two compliance orders because the government is failing to meet its legal and moral obligations to first nations children.
With the government failing to respond to a court ruling on systemic racial discrimination of first nations children, we are here calling on Parliament to step in and order finally that this historic wrong be righted. We cannot fail another generation of first nations children.
The minister is talking about an overhaul of the child welfare system for indigenous people. The minister knows that we have heard this all before. How many more consultations and studies need to be done?
Every day in this House we talk about issues relating to indigenous people. I just want to take a moment to recognize the people who actually live there every single day and keep doing the work. They do not stop by for a visit. They do not go in to check if their research was done properly. They stay there every day and they see the compounded effects of residential schools, of colonization, and it is exhausting work. These people never give up. I cannot even imagine how hard that is.
The minister was a member of this chamber during the Chrétien years when two government commission reports documented the many shortfalls. There have been recommendations. Canada has never meaningfully implemented them. Instead, the Canadian government continues to do what it likes to do so much: commission another study, do some more consultation.
In 2005, there was a two-part study that found first nations children on reserve received approximately 70¢ on the dollar compared to non-aboriginal children. This was reiterated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action. This is what is being asked for:
|| 3. We call upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle.
As Cindy Blackstock once said:
|| We need a government who is not going to just talk, that will actually act and alleviate that discrimination, because there are kids out there right now who are living in very difficult circumstances.
|| We are losing another generation of First Nations children to wayward federal policies and that has to stop.
The government has a shameful history of fighting families in courts. If no relationship is more important to the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Youth, than with indigenous people, then the government must explain how it can possible justify not immediately ending the racial discrimination of first nations children.
We have examples. Health care provides orthodontic care that is medically necessary. Requests are denied and appealed. I have the privilege of raising beautiful indigenous children, and when we went to the orthodontists, they were very clear, saying that this would take at least three tries, that we should not be surprised; it would be denied every single time and then we would have to fight it. When a service provider tells us that, we know there is something seriously wrong.
First nations children are 12 times more likely to be placed in foster care due to poverty, poor housing, and addictions rooted in the trauma of residential schools. The cost of providing equal funding for child welfare for this year is estimated to be around $260 million, identified by Cindy Blackstock, not the court.
Following the ruling, the Liberal budget of 2016 provided only $71 million for this year. Not all of this money will be going directly to those on the ground. The Liberal government provided $155 million less than Canada's legal and moral obligation to provide a year one for first nations children and child welfare, and did not even meet what was identified as needed in the Harper government.
We know it is time. There has been a real call to action. We have a history in this country that we need to make right, and we have to stop punishing children for decisions that were made a long time ago. How much more do we expect these communities to take? We need to fix it, and we need to fix it now.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
This is an important debate that we are engaging in today.
I come from a province in which child welfare has been a critical issue for many years. In fact, when I left the Manitoba legislature after serving for about 18 years, the child advocate's office declared that Manitoba was in a child care crisis. That is after many years of both Conservative and NDP performances.
The reason I say that is, when I look at what is being talked about today, I think what we are losing out on is the importance of working together with others in order to make sure the child is first and foremost and is given the biggest consideration, the most significant consideration.
I listened to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I can tell members that this is an individual, as a minister—and I have seen her when she was in opposition—who genuinely has a caring heart and attitude toward indigenous people and, in fact, all children.
I look at the resolution that has been brought forward by my New Democratic friends and I think it has fallen short on what I believe is a bigger issue, and we have heard members of this House talk about it. That is the real need for change, the need for real reform on this issue.
The serious nature and the magnitude of the problem cannot be underestimated.
I say all of this because I believe that this government has an excellent track record to date, and there is a lot more to be done.
Within the first couple of months of taking office, one of the first things we did was that the Prime Minister indicated we would have an inquiry into the 1,200-plus missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. That is something that I and many other members of this House have talked about and requested that the government to take action on for years inside this legislature. It was this Prime Minister, working with this cabinet, who ultimately made the decision within a couple of months of having the authority to call for the inquiry. That inquiry is of critical importance because through that inquiry we will get a better understanding of the plight of the children who we are talking about today.
I realize my time has expired.