Murray Rankin calls for equal funding for Aboriginal children

Remarks in Parliament, October 27, 2016

Mr. Speaker it’s an honour to address the motion before us today.

If we were alive here, 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 percent of its children had died. At that time, in 1907, Indian Affairs gave less money to fight tubercolosis amongst all First Nations people than was allocated to the city of Ottawa. The report proved that the government knew how poorly Aboriginal children 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 chamber.

We’re here because on January 29th 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 reserves, as well as the failure of the government to give Aboriginal children equal access to public services without falling victim to government red tape. The government has said that they will not appeal this decision—and I applaud them, at least, for that—but those are just words and what the children of this country desperately need is action.

It’s worth remembering how we got to here.

Over the late 1990s, government data showed that the number of Aboriginal children going into child welfare care had risen 71 percent over a six year span because the government had failed to invest in prevention services to help keep children safely at home.

By 2000, a government report found that children on reserves received 78 cents on the dollar to what non-Aboriginal children received. Rather than take real action the government commissioned another report. The new report showed Aboriginal children getting even less: just 70 cents 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 released to their home, with the provincial government covering their healthcare expenses. But Jordan Anderson was Aboriginal. And so he remained in hospital as Ottawa and the province of Manitoba argued over who would pay for his care. While they argued, he died, never having spent a day in a family home.

It’s in his memory that we are calling on the government today to fully implement Jordan’s Principle. This is a principle 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 healthcare first and then let the adults argue over whose budget should cover it. But as I will address in a moment, this principle—which is crystal clear to Canadians—is somehow still controversial for this government.

Two years after Jordan River Anderson died in hospital, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society filed a case against the government with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Within 30 days of filing that challenge, the Harper Conservatives cut their core funding. The Society had to let go of half their staff and do their own janitorial work, but they kept going.

On January 29th of this year, that perseverance paid off. I’d like to read the words of Tribunal’s legally-binding ruling: “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, they said, was not to punish the government, but to end 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 the practice, 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 and privileges” they were denied by racial discrimination.

Under that authority, the Tribunal issued the following order to the Government:

“[Aboriginal Affairs] is ordered to cease its discriminatory practices and reform [its programs]to reflect the findings in this decision. [Aboriginal Affairs] is 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.”

It is because the government has failed to take the actions that were ordered, despite two failure-to-comply orders in April and September of this year, that we have brought this motion to Parliament today.

 

After all, it is in this chamber that Canadians’ elected representatives voted in 2007 to fully adopt Jordan’s principle.

 

That motion—and the decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal—are crystal clear. The second compliance order issued against the government noted that Parliament applied the principle to all First Nations children, not just those living on reserves and that the government’s narrower definition “will likely create gaps for First Nations children and is not in line with the Decision.”

 

So let me read from the most recent compliance order and let Members listen for any ambiguity: “Consistent with the motion adopted by the House of Commons, the panel orders [Aboriginal Affairs] to immediately apply Jordan’s principle to all First Nations children.”

 

Cindy Blackstock once said that this government, by its actions, is saying that the government is above the law and First Nations children are below it. A vote to support this motion today is a vote to say that ends now.

 

A vote for this motion is a vote to equalize the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children.

 

A vote for this motion is vote for the principle that as Canadians we will set aside our differences and care for our children first.

 

A vote for this motion is a vote to stop needlessly fighting families in court. Consider the Cree teenager who required emergency orthodontic care to prevent her teeth falling out. These services are covered by Health Canada but appeals are routinely denied at rates of 80, 99 and 100 percent. After her final appeal was denied—on the very day that the Tribunal issued is landmark ruling on racial discrimination—her family took the government to court. Since then the government has spent $32,000 on legal fees defending the denial of care that would have cost $8,000.  That is the kind of injustice that Canadians can no longer accept and this government can no longer defend.

So let me say this: refusing to obey the orders of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is not an option—they are legally binding—and neither is more delay, more consultations, and more reports. If we are to do better than past governments—and we must—then we need to stop acting like past governments. Canadians are tired of platitudes and words without action.


Today’s motion is about action, not words; it’s about turning a new page, not offering more of the same; and it’s about correcting—once and for all—an enormous injustice to 163,000 children in this country. I urge all Members to support it.