Cindy Blackstock Says Feds Have Ignored Legal Order On First Nations Children

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OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is consciously discriminating against 163,000 children in its delivery of child welfare services on reserves, First Nations advocate Cindy Blackstock said Thursday as a human rights tribunal issued a second compliance order on the issue.

Blackstock — executive director of an organization that together with the Assembly of First Nations spent nine years fighting the federal government over child welfare services — said Canadians need to know that the Trudeau government is not following a legal order.

"It is saying, really, in its actions that the government of Canada is above the law and sadly, that First Nations children are below the law,'' Blackstock said.

"And that should no longer be allowed in this country, not after the residential schools.''

cindy blackstock
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, regarding First Nations child welfare. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In its latest ruling, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal delivered a series of directives to the government, including an order that the Indigenous Affairs Department provide clear information about how it is implementing the tribunal's original January decision.

Last winter, the rights body ruled that Canada discriminated against First Nations kids in the delivery of services.

The tribunal is also calling for Canada to apply Jordan's Principle — a policy designed to ensure First Nations children do not get caught up in bureaucratic wrangling over money — both on and off reserve.

Government spent $32,000 to avoid helping child with dental care

Blackstock pointed to a recent court case involving a young Alberta girl who requires dental treatment to ensure she can talk and eat without pain.

The federal government has spent $32,000 in legal fees fighting the matter as opposed to the $8,000 that would have been required for treatment, she said.

"We need a government who is not going to just talk, that will actually act and alleviate that discrimination, because there are kids out right now who are living in very difficult circumstances,'' Blackstock said.

"We are losing another generation of First Nations children to wayward federal policies and that has to stop.''

The government must act immediately, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Thursday, noting the tribunal's original findings were clear.

"We are losing another generation of First Nations children to wayward federal policies and that has to stop.''

"We want to work with them to fix this, with all levels of government to fix this,'' Bellegarde said.

"It is really about the best care for these most vulnerable of our society, these young First Nations men and women. It's all about working together.''

perry bellegarde cindy blackstock
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, regarding First Nations child welfare. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The government is currently reviewing the tribunal's latest compliance order and will determine appropriate steps, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a statement.

"We know that the child welfare system on reserve needs to be overhauled, and that is why we are engaging with First Nations youth, First Nations leadership, service providers, the provinces and Yukon Territory,'' Bennett said.

"Our government is committed to changing the status quo and we are taking action to ensure that we get this right for First Nation children and families on reserve.''

In the federal budget, the Liberals earmarked nearly $635 million over five years in new funding with $71 million set to flow as "immediate relief.''

Blackstock puts need at around $200 million

Blackstock says this money falls short of what is needed, pegging the actual shortfall at around $200 million this year.

The government has also failed to provide concrete details on a July announcement on Jordan's Principle that involved $382 million over three years, she noted.

"We know nothing about that,'' Blackstock said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to personally address the reserve child welfare issue, NDP indigenous affairs critic Charlie Angus said Thursday, noting he fears the dispute could lag on for years.

"... their government is systematically and racially discriminating against indigenous children.''

"This prime minister is the minister of youth — if he was serious about it, he would act,'' Angus said.

"I don't know what this government doesn't understand about a ruling that says their government is systematically and racially discriminating against indigenous children.''

— Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

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