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Towards a Hopeful Future: In Conversation with Cindy Blackstock

Voice in conversation with Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

You have just won a major victory at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Can you give our readers an overview of the decision?

On January 26, 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) issued its decision that the Canadian government, specifically the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC), is racially discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children and their families by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services (First Nations Child and Family Services Program) and by failing to implement Jordan’s Principle to ensure equitable access to government services that are available to all other children in Canada.

Jordan’s Principle specifies that the government organization first contacted regarding services for a First Nations child should pay for the service – ensuring that children are not left waiting for the services they need while governments argue over who should pay for them.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal made four immediate orders regarding the discrimination perpetuated by the First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS) Program. First, INAC was ordered to:

  1. Cease its discriminatory practices regarding the FNCFS Program;
  2. Reform the FNCFS Program;
  3. Cease applying the narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle; and
  4. Take measures to immediately implement the full meaning and scope of Jordan’s Principle.

Three months later, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal made a further order regarding immediate relief measures. This order, released on April 26, 2016, expresses concern about the government’s slow pace implementing the January ruling and issues an order requiring the federal government to apply Jordan’s Principle to all jurisdictional disputes (including between federal departments) involving all First Nations children by May 10, 2016. The federal government was also required to provide detailed information to the CHRT as to how it has complied with the Tribunal order on child welfare funding by May 26, 2016.

The Tribunal’s decision was a victory for First Nations children and all Canadians who believe in love and fairness. But implementation of the decision is key and, as the Tribunal noted in its April decision, progress has been slow.

What prompted you to take your case to the Human Rights Commission in the first place?

In Canada, provincial/territorial child welfare laws apply both on and off reserves, but the provinces and territories expect the federal government to pay for services on reserves. When the federal government does not do so, or does so to a lesser standard, the provinces do not typically top it up. This results in a two-tiered child welfare system where First Nations children receive inequitable services.

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