NEWS

Ottawa's legal bills mount over aboriginal teen's bid for care

01/08/2014 05:52 EST | Updated 03/10/2014 05:59 EDT
The federal government's legal bills to fight a Nova Scotia woman who is seeking care for her severely disabled aboriginal teenager would have paid for three years of his care, CBC News has learned.

Documents obtained by CBC News through access to information reveal the government has already spent nearly $200,000 to overturn a federal court ruling that ordered Ottawa to pay for the cost of caring for Jeremy Meawasige.

The aboriginal teenager, who lives on the Pictou Landing reserve in Nova Scotia, suffers from cerebral palsy, autism, spinal curvature and hydrocephalus, a debilitating accumulation of spinal fluid in the brain.​

His mother, Maurina Beadle, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010, is seeking the same level of care that an aboriginal child would receive off reserve. 

A federal court agreed with her last April when it ruled that the government was wrong to cover only a fraction of the costs to care for Meawasige.

The federal government chose to appeal that ruling and ask the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn its decision.

Paul Champ, the lawyer who is representing Beadle, told CBC News while he isn't surprised to see the government take his case to court, that amount of money would be better spent if Ottawa would simply comply with the federal court ruling and pay for Meawasige's care.

"The federal government is spending far too much money trying to deny him home care than it would cost just to provide him with the services that he needs," Champ said.

The federal government has said it is willing to pay up to $2,200 per month for Meawasige's care, but the cost of his needs have been evaluated at closer to $6,000 per month.

Cindy Blackstock, the executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, told CBC News Meawasige's mother isn't asking for more than she is entitled to under the law.

"It's not about giving First Nations children more services than other kids, it's about giving them the same thing."

Under a 2005 agreement, Jordan's Principle, First Nations children are entitled to receive the public assistance they need, regardless of jurisdictional fights between levels of government over who should pay.

"It's disappointing that the government of Canada will spend money fighting a mother getting services for her children and using that amount of money which would have gone to the child in the first place," Blackstock said.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told CBC News in a written statement, "our government treats taxpayers’ money with the utmost respect."

"We believe that litigation should be the last resort. Where litigation is necessary, the government seeks to reconcile the interests of all Canadians. We will continue to work to reconcile the interests of all Canadians while respecting taxpayer dollars."

In its appeal, the government is asking that Beadle and the Pictou Landing First Nation pay the government's legal costs if it wins.

With that the federal government is sending a clear message, Beadle's lawyer said.

"It sends a message that you better not think about bringing a case against the federal government or if you do, you better buckle up because it's going to be a multi-year and very expensive fight," Champ said.

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