Indigenous Canadians face tremendous trauma that has intergenerational affects on their health and wellbeing. Children on reserves are particularly vulnerable because their families are still struggling for rights and recognition. This article will look at an inspiring peace of their journey to support children receive the care they rightfully deserve.
Jordan’s Principle and the Human Rights Tribunal that proved Canada has discriminated against children on reserves serves as an eye popping reality of the work the needs to be done. ASAP.
Jordan River Anderson was born on October 22, 1999 at his local hospital in Winnipeg, near his home at Cree River Nation. Immediately after birth, he was diagnosed with Carey Fineman Ziter Syndrome, a chronic disorder that affects muscular development and neurological functions (Hansen, 2015). After spending two years in the hospital, Jordan was ready to go home. All the services were in place for his family to care for him. However, the cost to cover his special needs became the center of an interjurisdictional government dispute. Jordan’s life ended on February 2, 2005 in the hospital, not having spent even one night at home with his family.
Through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), the federal government is accountable for Aboriginal health on reserves. The provinces have the responsibility of health services off of reserves. The 2008 Auditor General of Canada report found the INAC had inequitable approaches in provincial funding for Aboriginal children on reserves and this contributed to growing numbers of First Nations children in foster care (Office of the Auditor General, 2008). INAC claimed they were simply funders to the provinces and that they were not responsible for special needs health care on reserves. The provincial health programs are strictly only able to provide services to children off of reserves.
The funding model between the two agencies created a gap that prevented Jordan from going home. Jordan’s family was being forced to place him in provincial foster care in order to have his unique medical needs met. If Jordan was a non-Aboriginal child his service costs would have been covered for him to live at home. It was quickly recognized that advocacy was needed to prevent Aboriginal kids from not getting equal and adequate services on reserves as non-Aboriginal children.
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (Family Caring Society) is a national non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of Aboriginal children and their families. They came up with what is known as Jordan’s Principle. The principle says that in cases where there is a cost dispute between the provincial and federal governments concerning a special needs child from a reserve that the agency in first contact will cover the responsibilities. The child needs must come first, the decision of who pays should be secondary.
The Family Caring Society took the issue to the government. A supportive Member of Parliament tabled a private members motion of Jordan’s Principle in May 2007. By December 2007, Parliament unanimously supported the motion. The House speaker stated that, “The government should immediately adopt a child-first principle, based on Jordan’s Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children” (Blackstock, 2012). In the outcome, it was found that some children placed into care may not need actual protection but may need extensive medical services that are not available on reserves. By placing these children in care outside of their communities, they can have access to the medical services they need (Office of the Auditor General, 2008).
The success of the Parliaments decision was a big victory. The Canadian Public Health Association celebrated its 100th anniversary by naming Jordan’s Principle as one of the 12 most important achievements in the history of Canadian public health (CPHA, 2012).
In less than one year after Jordan’s Principle passed in Parliament, 37 children with special needs from his home Nation, were still being denied medical services (Lett, 2008). These children were placed in foster homes to have special needs support. The problem was an epidemic, in all of Canada, that same year there were over 400 interjurisdictional disputes specific to Aboriginal child service agencies (Canadian Pediatric Society 2012).
In 2007, the Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint to the Canada Human Rights Commission who passed the issue on for a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). When filing the complaint, Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the Family Caring Society reported that, “There are more First Nations children living in state care today than at any time in history, including during the height of the 2 residential school operations” (Blackstock, 2012).
Ironically, in 2008, Canada announced a formal apology to Aboriginal residential school victims. The Prime Minister of Canada spoke some glaringly relevant words.
We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions and it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this (Harper, 2008).
The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was then established and began to document the truth of survivors, their families, and communities (Brief History of Residential School, 2016). This was important because many families faced generations of trauma from the catastrophic abuses found to have plagued residential schools. This trauma undoubtedly adds to the urgent need for a stable health system for Aboriginal children.
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada et al. v. Attorney General of Canada (for the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) tribunal began September 14, 2009. The complaint alleged that the INAC discriminated in providing child and family services to First Nations on reserves, on the basis of race and/or national or ethnic origin, by providing inequitable and insufficient funding for those services (FNCFCS v. Canada, 2016).
The case received an extraordinary amount of public support. The New Brunswick Provincial Children and Youth Representative and the Ontario Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth stepped up to support the tribunal with a report saying, “In many First Nations communities, children’s social services are practically nonexistent” (Irwin, 2009). Amnesty International called upon the Canada to accept the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and provide equitable funding for First Nations Children. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts reported its concern for the slow progress in meeting the Auditor Generals recommendations. There were over 14, 000 people and organizations registered to follow the case. It was the most watched Human Rights case in worldwide history (Blackstock, 2016).
During the length of the tribunal the federal government spent over $5, 000, 000 to stall the proceedings. Including two applications to dismiss the trial on technical grounds. They applied the comparator argument saying that child services delivered to First Nations should not be compared to those delivered to all other Canadians. The government applied the service argument, claiming that funding is not a service pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act (Blackstock, 2016). Then, the Family Caring Society was forced to apply for an Access to Information Act to obtain over INAC 50,000 documents, that were important to the case. Not only was the government fighting the process but they also tried for a publication ban on the process of the tribunal (Crosby, 2008).
By 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had spent the last seven years in talks and finally released its 94 Calls To Action. The third states, “We call upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle” (Calls to Action, 2015). The new Liberal government has since announced they will implement all 94 recommendations.
In February of 2016, the tribunal finally made its landmark decision. The decision stated that, Ottawa is to cease its discriminatory practices against 163 000 Aboriginal children and reform the provincial funding programs (FNCFCS v. Canada, 2016). The panel wrote that, “Funding formulas actually provided an incentive to remove children from their homes as a first resort rather than as a last resort” (FNCFCS v. Canada, 2016, para 344). As well, INAC 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” (FNCFCS v. Canada, 2016, para 481).
Jordan Andersons story has now been enshrined in Canadian history. His life reflects on the increasing realization that Aboriginal people need government cooperation to heal from the traumas they have faced. The Human Rights Tribunal holds Canada accountable to Aboriginal children on reserves. Thankfully, Canada has a justice system with fair processes that provides binding results.
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Blackstock, C. (2012). Jordan’s Principle: Canada’s broken promise to First Nations children? Pediatrics & Child Health, 17(7), 368–370. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448536/
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Hansen, C. (2015). About CFZ. Cfzsyndrome.org. <http://cfzsyndrome.org/about-cfz.html >
Harper, S. (2008). Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools. Aadnc-aandc.gc.ca. http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100015644/1100100015649
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Lett, D. (2008). Jordan’s Principle remains in limbo. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 179(12), 1256-1256. < http://dx.doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.081756 >
Office of the Auditor General. (2008). Chapter 4. First Nations Child and Family Services Program. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. <http://bit.ly/1ROrDGA>