“…a broken system that is harming children and removing them from their communities.” – The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal describing the federally-funded child welfare system in First Nations communities, January 2018.
Twelve years ago, a landmark federally-funded study concluded that persistent government underfunding was denying children and families in First Nations communities essential supports available in all other communities in Canada.
Two years ago, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal concluded that the underfunding of services for First Nations children had directly contributed to shockingly large numbers of children being removed from their families and communities because less disruptive alternatives were not available. The Tribunal called for an immediate end to this discrimination.
Last week, the Tribunal once again concluded that, despite much publicized increases in federal funding, the federal government has failed to end discrimination against First Nations children.
Responding to the latest Tribunal ruling, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced that the federal government was about to “fundamentally” change the way it deals with First Nations children’s services and that the gap in funding would be closed in the next federal budget.
Minister Philpott’s announcement is welcome. But there should be no mistake about just how profound the ‘fundamental’ change must be. In its latest ruling, the Tribunal noted the gulf between “some of Canada’s actions and responses” and “the seriousness and emergency of the issue.” In fact, for more than a decade, Canadian officials have poured government resources into maintaining the status quo – denying the problem, fighting against the Tribunal case, and trying to manage public perception when the Tribunal ruled against them – rather than fixing a well-documented problem affecting the lives of tens of thousands of children.
For the government to now finally address the problem will require nothing less than the ‘fundamental’ change promised by Minister Philpott. Which is why it’s more important than ever that Canadians continue to demand justice and accountability.
Every February, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society encourages the public to show its support for ending discrimination against First Nations children by sending Valentines to government officials and taking part in other Have a Heart Day (February 14th) events.
Amnesty International is proud to once again stand alongside the Caring Society and many other allies in supporting this important campaign.