First Na­tions child ad­vo­cates ramp up pres­sure on feds

‘The very lives of those kids are on the line’

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment must end dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices and in­crease fund­ing for First Na­tions child wel­fare ser­vices in the up­com­ing fed­eral bud­get, prom­i­nent First Na­tions ad­vo­cates said Thurs­day as they marked 10 years since fil­ing a hu­man rights com­plaint on the is­sue.

Assem­bly of First Na­tions Na­tional Chief Perry Bel­le­garde and Cindy Black­stock, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the First Na­tions Child and Fam­ily Car­ing So­ci­ety, said the gov­ern­ment has failed to com­ply with land­mark find­ings from the Cana­dian Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal.

“The very lives of those kids are on the line,” Black­stock said at a news con­fer­ence, point­ing to two com­pli­ance or­ders is­sued by the tri­bunal fol­low­ing its orig­i­nal find­ings last year.

“There is no ex­cuse for this type of in­com­pe­tence within the gov­ern­ment when it comes to the well-be­ing of 163,000 chil­dren ... I ex­pect far bet­ter, we all ex­pect far bet­ter and God help us; let’s do it for these kids in Canada’s 150th birth­day.”

In Jan­uary 2016, the quasi-ju­di­cial tri­bunal found the fed­eral gov­ern­ment dis­crim­i­nates against First Na­tions chil­dren and fam­i­lies in the de­liv­ery of ser­vices on re­serve.

Fil­ing the orig­i­nal hu­man rights chal­lenge was an ex­traor­di­nary step, Bel­le­garde said Thurs­day, not­ing he wished he could cel­e­brate af­ter 10 years.

In­stead, he said pro­grams cur­rently avail­able through pro­vin­cial agen­cies re­main out of reach for First Na­tions in­clud­ing sui­cide pre­ven­tion and sup­ports.

“We’ve been fight­ing this bat­tle for a long time,” Bel­le­garde said.

It is sim­ply not ac­cept­able so many chil­dren are re­moved from their homes be­cause of poverty, Bel­le­garde added, not­ing that a sys­tem that re­wards the ap­pre­hen­sion of chil­dren must be changed be­cause that is when money flows to agen­cies.

Bel­le­garde and Black­stock also noted the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment backed an NDP mo­tion in Novem­ber in the House of Com­mons call­ing for an im­me­di­ate $155 mil­lion spend­ing in­crease and a fund­ing plan for fu­ture years.

“The min­is­ter of in­dige­nous and north­ern af­fairs told us that the Cana­dian Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal is not the court of law,” NDP in­dige­nous af­fairs critic Romeo Sa­ganash said dur­ing ques­tion pe­riod on Thurs­day.

“All in­dige­nous chil­dren have the right to a healthy child­hood, so when will the gov­ern­ment do the right thing and stop dis­crim­i­nat­ing against First Na­tion chil­dren?”

Speak­ing out­side the Com­mons, In­dige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett in­sisted the gov­ern­ment is ap­ply­ing “ev­ery ounce of po­lit­i­cal mus­cle” to re­form the child wel­fare sys­tem.

“At the mo­ment, the prob­lem has been that we as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pay and the prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries de­liver,” she said. “I want to be ac­count­able for the re­sults, and that means we have to change the sys­tem.”

The min­is­ter has ap­pointed a spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive — 2011 Lib­eral can­di­date and Lake­head Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Cyn­thia Wes­ley Esquimaux — to lead na­tional dis­cus­sions on the re­form of First Na­tions child wel­fare ser­vices.

Ben­nett’s of­fi­cials ar­gue that gov­ern­ment fund­ing is be­ing phased in over time de­lib­er­ately, as agen­cies deal with the chal­lenges of hir­ing and re­tain­ing staff, as well as the need for time to roll out new pro­grams.

“I think that what we need to do is work at these tri­lat­eral ta­bles with the prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries so that we have di­rect ways of get­ting money for the pre­ven­tion so that the kids stay in their fam­i­lies and in their com­mu­ni­ties,” Ben­nett said.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has pre­sented no ev­i­dence that First Na­tions agen­cies are some­how all in­ca­pable of ad­dress­ing and im­ple­ment­ing child wel­fare ser­vices, Black­stock ar­gues.

ADRIAN WYLD, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

First Na­tions Chief Perry Bel­le­garde lis­tens to Cindy Black­stock, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the First Na­tions Child and Fam­ily Car­ing So­ci­ety re­spond to a ques­tion dur­ing a news con­fer­ence.

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