A landmark ruling may force the Government of Canada to increase funding for First Nations children living on reserves, bringing it up to provincial levels.
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations challenged the government before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. They charged discrimination against First Nations children, pointing out that federal child welfare programs spend 22% less for on-reserve children than the provinces do for those living off reserve. Government lawyers slowed the deliberations with five years of legal wrangling over technical issues.
Last summer, the Tribunal handed government foot draggers a victory. Shirish Chotalia, chair of the panel hearing the case, wrote that the Tribunal accepted the government’s primary argument: federal and provincial service providers could not be compared. By that reasoning, there was no case.
The losing parties appealed in Federal Court. On April 18th, Federal Court Justice Mactavish dismissed the earlier decision and sent the case back to “a differently constituted panel” of the Tribunal. She reminded government it was already relying on provincial standards, by its “own adoption of provincial child welfare standards in its programming manual and funding policies.” This time the merits of the case, rather than semantics, will be examined.
On hearing the court’s ruling, Liberal Aboriginal Affairs critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett issued this statement:
The sad reality is that the number of Aboriginal children in care today is far greater than during the residential school era. The federal government must stop trying to shirk its responsibilities for child welfare on reserves, and act with First Nations to ensure that equitable, culturally-based child services are made available immediately.
The federal government has 30 days to file an appeal, but there are more honorable things to do with tax dollars. Instead of paying lawyers to continue fighting the challenge to their funding formula, they can invest those dollars in programs that offer First Nations children a brighter future.
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