05/26/2017 12:51 EDT | Updated 05/26/2017 14:01 EDT

Jordan's Principle could have prevented Ontario suicides, rights tribunal says

OTTAWA — The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal says the federal government's failure to fully implement Jordan's Principle may have contributed to the suicides of two teenagers in Wapekeka First Nation earlier this year.

The principle lays out how to proceed when a jurisdictional dispute arises over paying for services to First Nations children, saying the first government to be contacted should pay, with arguments over jurisdiction to be sorted out later.

It's named after a five-year-old Manitoba boy who died in hospital in 2005 while waiting for Ottawa and the Manitoba government to decide who would pay for the specialized care he needed so he could live in a foster home.

In a 52-page decision released Friday, the tribunal chastised Ottawa for not yet having implemented a January 2016 order to fully follow Jordan's Principle, and urging it to do so immediately. 

The decision says the flaws in how Canada adopted the principle means there was no chance to prevent the Wapekeka tragedy and that Canada only reacted with help for the reserve after the deaths occurred.

Canada argued earlier this year the tribunal has no authority to force Ottawa to comply with its decision, saying it has allocated $635 million to improve child welfare services on reserves over five years.