APTN National News
OTTAWA – Long after most people had gone home for the day Tuesday the federal government issued a press release saying it was going to provide $382 million in new funding to support a federal policy that’s supposed to ensure First Nations children get specialized medical care when they need it, otherwise known as Jordan’s Principle.
On the surface it appeared to be good news.
But not to the woman who has been fighting Ottawa for nearly a decade.
Cindy Blackstock won a human rights complaint in January when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government racially discriminated against First Nations children when it came to child welfare funding, compared to non-Indigenous children.
The tribunal ordered the government to even the playing field, and properly fund Jordan’s Principle.
Blackstock warned people to pump the brakes and look at the details of the announcement in an interview with APTN National News Wednesday night.
Blackstock said the government appears to be narrowing the definition of Jordan’s Principle by saying the money is for health and social services.
“That is not Jordan’s Principle,” said Blackstock, whose human rights complaint took nine years. “Jordan’s Principle is to ensure First Nations children can access government services across all public services.”
She said the federal government appeared to further narrow the scope of Jordan’s Principle on Wednesday when it issued a compliance report to the human rights tribunal on how it was addressing the systemic funding shortfalls for First Nations children on-reserve.
In that report, the government said the Jordan’s Principle money was for children with disabilities and short term medical needs.
“The definition of Jordan’s Principle appears to be narrowing with every submission from the federal government,” said Blackstock.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day agreed the scope should be larger.
“It’s important that aspects of Jordan’s Principle are being implemented,” said Day. “But funds should also be put in place for all services, such as social, education and other investments – not just health dollars. As the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal pointed out earlier this year, there exists unequal levels of health care – and all social services – that Indigenous children in Canada receive compared to non-Indigenous children.”
Jordan’s Principle holds that no First Nations child should suffer denials, delays or disruptions of health services available to other children due to jurisdictional disputes.
In the past, provinces and the federal government couldn’t agree who should pay leaving First Nations children in limbo.
It’s named after Jordan Anderson, a Cree boy from Norway House, Man., who died in hospital in 2005 after such disagreements kept him from spending his last years in home care.
In the government’s submission to the human rights tribunal on Wednesday, Indigenous Affairs said it has begun working with First Nations child welfare agencies to reform child welfare and to eliminate any discrimination in levels of service.
But, Blackstock said the feds are doing that with the $71 million in annual funding they announced in the last budget, which she said is closer to $60 million after the government takes into account its own “cost of business.”
It’s not good enough and the number should be closer to $200 million a year said Blackstock.
That’s above and beyond the $382-million over three years for implementing Jordan’s Principle.
The debate over funding that ensued following the budget’s release was slap in the face, added Day.
He leads his organization’s health portfolio.
“It is a slap in the face to the tribunal,” he said.
“It is a slap in the face to our First Nations and their families, and it is a slap in the face to the residential school survivors who were really the assault on our child welfare.”
APTN asked Blackstock what difference she has noticed in dealing with new Liberal government compared to that of the former Conservative government that tried multiple times to have her human rights complaint dismissed.
“The new government is talking to us, but they are not listening,” she said. “While the new money is welcomed we’re still not 100 per cent sure how that is actually going to benefit children, especially given the narrowing of it.”
The tribunal is reviewing the government’s latest compliance report and may issue new orders if it feels the government continues to racially discriminate against First Nations children.
In its six-year examination of the Canada’s residential school legacy, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission flagged the number of indigenous children in care as a key issue to be addressed.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has vowed to “overhaul” the system.
– With files from The Canadian Press