Cindy Blackstock – Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations child welfare

In 2007, we filled a human rights complaint against the federal government alleging that they are currently racially discriminating against 163,000 children across this country. For the next six years, the federal government would fight tooth and nail to try to get it thrown out on
legal technicalities, so the facts would never be
heard by the Canadian people. But thankfully they were unsuccessful, and in 2013, for the first time in the world, a country went on trial for its current treatment of First Nations children before a body that can make a
binding order. The key reasons of course for First Nations kids going into child welfare care are poverty, poor housing and substance misuse related to
residential schools all things we can do something
about. Although provincial child welfare laws apply on reserve –
so do education and health laws – the federal government funds
those services on reserve. And you need to look no further than the Auditor General of Canada’s own reports to see that they underfund
those services significantly less than what
other Canadian children receive. So First Nations children and
young people get less, but they’re too often judged by
non-Aboriginal people as getting more. And that is incorrect. If we took any family, and we
cut their education amount by 30%, their child welfare support funds for keeping kids safely in their families by 22%, didn’t guarantee families
water, sanitation, housing, created conditions for poverty, any child in this country wouldn’t be doing well after a long period of time. And also, the government of
Canada not only knows about these problems, it has the solutions to deal with it, and has refused to do it regarding whatever the financial situation of the country is. So, I had worked along with many others on two solutions to address the issues in child welfare along with the
government. The government agreed with the
shortfalls, agreed those shortfalls were
driving kids into care, and did nothing about it. I feel really confident that
the government will be found to have racially discriminated
against these kids, because a lot of the evidence
we filed was their own government documents showing and admitting that at the highest levels. In fact, their own expert report agreed with the shortfall that we calculated. The Tribunal has the authorityto order a binding remedy against the federal government. And it is entirely in the Tribunal’s hands about how that
is going to be structured. But, we asked at the Caring Society that they do a number of things. First of all, of course, make
up that shortfall, so that First Nations families
do have an equitable chance to care for their children at home safely, before they’re placed in child welfare care. The second piece of that though
is also looking at the structure of the formula. We felt that it wasn’t just the
amounts of the money, it was the way that the federal
government had designed the formula that really didn’t allow it to meet the needs of children. We know from good research how
that formula should best be structured, and building in there correction mechanisms, because we know what we’re
going to put out there probably isn’t going to be perfect, and we need to be alive to the
issues of adjusting that formula for the needs of kids going forward. The third thing we need to do is, because the federal government
has racially discriminated against children since Confederation, there needs to be an independent watch dog that
looks over the department and makes sure that they don’t
slip back into discriminatory behaviour against this or future generations of children. And the final thing is
implementation of Jordan’s Principle. Because First Nations children are funded by the federal government and
other children by the provincial governments, they often are denied or delayed receipt of services. So, we’ve said we need Jordan’s
Principle to be implemented. And Jordan’s Principle simply says, where there’s a government
service available for all other kids, First Nations kids should be
able to access it on the same terms. It’s a fundamental principle of fairness. But the federal government is
not interested for fairness for kids, and so if it takes a court order to get it done, then let it come. For those people who watch this
video and think well residential schools were not on my watch, There’s nothing I can do. Why blame the past? You are living right in a moment where the federal
government is racially discriminating against kids as part of a fiscal restraint policy. As my mother says, there’s no
excuse for this behaviour. And there really isn’t. Every kid is sacred, and they all deserve a chance at a proper childhood.

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