APTN National News
The federal government’s continued failure to implement ordered changes to the way it delivers health care for Indigenous children played a role in the suicide deaths of two 12 year-old girls from a northern First Nation, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal said in a ruling issued Friday.
The tribunal again chastised the federal government for failing to comply with the landmark 2016 human rights ruling that found Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by underfunding child welfare services on reserve and by placing budgetary and administrative priorities over delivering immediate health care to the same children.
On Friday, the tribunal issued a compliance order against the federal government over its failure to fully apply Jordan’s Principle which was adopted by the House of Commons in 2007. Under Jordan’s Principle, the health care needs of First Nations children are placed ahead of jurisdictional disputes between the federal and provincial governments. It also applies to other public services, including education, early childhood learning and child welfare.
The ruling said Ottawa’s limited application of Jordan’s Principle played a role in Health Canada’s failure to quickly respond to an emergency July 2016 request for aid from Wapekeka First Nation after the northern Ontario community discovered a suicide pact between youth in the community. Months later, in January, two 12 year-old girls, Jolynn Winter and Chantel Fox, died by suicide in the First Nation.
“While Canada provided assistance once the Wapekeka suicides occurred, the flaws in the Jordan’s Principle process left any chance of preventing the Wapekeka tragedy unaddressed and the tragic events only triggered a reactive response to then provide services,” said the tribunal’s ruling.
The ruling said that much like under the previous Stephen Harper administration, the Justin Trudeau government still places bureaucratic needs ahead of First Nation children’s needs.
“The focus of Canada’s Jordan’s Principle processing remains on Canada’s administrative needs rather than the seriousness of the requests, the need to act expeditiously and, most importantly, the needs and best interest of children,” said the tribunal ruling. “The (tribunal) finds Canada’s new Jordan’s Principle process to be very similar to the old one, expect for a few additions.”
Health Minister Jane Philpott and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett issued a joint statement in response to the ruling. The minister’s said the federal government launched the Jordan’s Principle Child-First Initiative with $382.5 million worth of funding over three years to comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Tribunal.
“We are carefully reviewing today’s decision and in particular those areas where the (tribunal) has concluded that full compliance has not yet been reached,” said the statement. “The well being of First Nations children and families is a priority for the government of Canada.”
Cindy Blackstock, who heads the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and filed the initial human rights complaint, said it was time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene and force the ordered changes by the tribunal.
“It is vital that the prime minister personally intervene to ensure (Indigenous Affairs) and Health Canada fully comply with Jordan’s Principle,” said Blackstock, in a statement. “Today’s ruling includes evidence from the tribunal hearing that shows the deaths of at least two children are related to Canada’s non-compliance.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called for Ottawa to immediately act on the tribunal’s ruling.
“We need immediate action and we will hold Canada to these commitments and continue to work to ensure safety, fairness and equity for our children,” said Bellegarde.
The AFN backed Blackstock when she first filed the human rights complaint against the federal government.
In its ruling, the tribunal ordered Canada to apply Jordan’s Principle to all First Nation children, whether they live on or off-reserve.
“It is not limited to First Nations children with disabilities, or those with discrete short-term issues creating critical needs for health and social supports or affecting their activities of daily living,” said the tribunal.
The ruling, which set several deadlines for Ottawa, also ordered the federal government to review all previous denied funding requests related to the health of children since April 1, 2009, to determine whether they comply with the broader definition of Jordan’s Principle ordered by the tribunal.
The federal government was ordered to provide a report on its efforts to comply with the tribunal’s Jordan’s Principle ruling by Nov. 15.