Justice officials arguing against own government in Jordan's Principle court appeal

Federal department of Justice lawyers who are appealing a Federal Court ruling on Jordan’s Principle will find themselves arguing against their own government.

APTN National News
Federal department of Justice lawyers who are appealing a Federal Court ruling on Jordan’s Principle will find themselves arguing against their own government.

On Monday, Justice Canada served notice that it is appealing to the Federal Court of Appeal a decision ordering Ottawa to help pay for the care of a severely disabled First Nation teenager in Pictou Landing, NS.

In May 2011, the Pictou Landing band and Maurina Beadle launched court action against Canada and Nova Scotia for not following through on Jordan’s Principle.

Federal judge Leonard Mandamin ruled last month that Canada was not only responsible for the health care costs associated with keeping Jeremy Meawasige at home with his mother and for taking care of First Nations children on reserve, but that the Pictou Landing band should be compensated for about $180,000.00 it has spent on Jeremy’s care to date.

For his entire life, Meawasige has only known one caregiver, his mother Maurina Beadle. But now life may change for the teenager from the Pictou Landing First Nation if the government’s appeal is successful.

Jeremy’s needs are many. He is diagnosed with hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, spinal curvature and autism. He can only speak a few words, cannot walk without help and needs complete care for bathing, feeding, dressing and diapering. Since he was born, his mother Beadle has cared for him in every way without any financial assistance.

Justice Mandamin noted in his decision that Beadle and Meawasige have a “deep bond with each other, and that “his mother is often the only person who can understand his communication and needs. Her voice calms him and can make him desist in self-abusive behavior.”

But everything changed in May 2010 when Beadle suffered a stroke. She needed a wheelchair to get around and could no longer take care of Jeremy on her own. That’s when she approached Health Canada for help under Jordan’s Principle.

In the opinion of this House

The idea of Jordan’s principle is based on the story of Jordan River Anderson. The child from Norway House First Nation in Manitoba suffered from a rare muscular disorder that required around the clock care. Anderson’s family wanted the boy to return home to live out his life. But a dispute between the federal government and Manitoba over who should pay for his care left him stranded in a Winnipeg hospital where he would die two years later never seeing Norway House.

In response to Jordan’s plight, NDP MP Jean Crowder introduced a motion in the House of Commons in 2007.

“That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child first principle, based on Jordan’s Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children,” said the motion.

The idea is that First Nations children living on reserve should be afforded the same health care services as children living off reserve.

“Even today mothers and fathers are having to give up their children to the state in order to ensure that they receive adequate care because we fail to provide, as a federal government, adequate funding to ensure that these children get the care they need in their homes,” said Crowder at the time.

On December 12, 2007, the motion passed by a vote of 296 – 0.

Dealing with the government

In 2010, after Beadle suffered her stroke, and was no longer able to care for Jeremy on her own, she turned to the federal government and Jordan’s Principle for help. Because of Jeremy’s high needs, the cost of care was more than $ $8000 a month to keep him at home.

According to the Pictou Landing band, Jeremy took up about 80 per cent of its total monthly budget for personal and home care services that are funded by Aboriginal Affairs.

Beadle and the band contacted Health Canada and bureaucrats set up a series of meetings with Aboriginal Affairs and the province of Nova Scotia to discuss Jeremy’s case.

According to Canada, bureaucrats in Nova Scotia stated that if living off reserve, Jeremy would only receive a maximum of $2,200 per month for health care costs and that 24 hour care was not available.

Less than a month after the first meeting, Aboriginal Affairs manager Barbara Robinson informed the Pictou Band and Beadle that both levels of government agreed the help they were looking for was above what would be provided to a child living on or off reserve and that Jeremy’s predicament did not meet the federal definition of a Jordan’s Principle case.

Fast forward to 2013, Justice Mandamin did not agree with Robinson’s analysis or with Nova Scotia. In his ruling, Mandamin acknowledged that the province’s maximum for care is $2,200, but noted that there is a clause in Nova Scotia’s Social Assistance Act that states additional funding may be granted in exceptional circumstances. Mandamin ruled that Jordan’s Principle cannot be narrowly defined and that Canada failed to consider Jeremy’s case under Jordan’s principle as required.

The appeal

No one from Aboriginal Affairs made themselves available to speak to APTN about the case but documents filed in the Federal Court of Appeal by Canada state that Mandamin erred in 5 areas including the interpretation and application of Jordan’s Principle and in the remedy or the reimbursement costs to the band council.

In a short statement to APTN, the department of Aboriginal Affairs simply stated that “the Government of Canada will work with the Pictou Landing First Nation for the reimbursement of home care costs incurred related to Mr. Meawasige’s need, however following careful consideration we have decided to appeal the decision.”

And that is why the appeal comes as a surprise to many. In 2007, the government wholeheartedly supported Jordan’s Principle.

“Our Government is taking the necessary steps to make sure a tragedy, such as the one upon which this motion is sadly based, never happens again. Our Government is committed to putting children first and is proud to support Motion 296, ‘Jordan’s Principle,” said the federal government at the time.

But the message from this appeal appears to renege on that commitment.

“I’m disappointed to see the Conservatives appealing this decision,” said Crowder. “This points to their lack of support for the principles outlined in my motion on Jordan’s Principle that passed unanimously in the House of Commons back in 2007.”

Crowder is not alone. Paul Champ is the lawyer who represented the Pictou Landing band and Beadle.

“I’m not exactly sure what the government will argue. I think their argument is basically that they should be able to say what Jordan’s Principle should be and no one else,” said Champ.

Champ believes the band stands a good chance to win on this appeal.

But the process is frustrating those involved.

Philippa Pictou is the Health Coordinator for the Pictou Landing First Nation. She also spearheaded the case against the government.

“I’m outraged,” said Pictou. “I think it’s a shame that they’re spending more money to argue about this case when it was very clearly outlined in the response from Judge Mandamin and to spend more money to delay the process is absolutely shameful.”

The appeal also raises questions about what the Justice Canada lawyers will be arguing. The unanimous vote in the House of Commons and a ministerial statement upholding the spirit of Jordan’s Principle were duly noted in Mandamin’s decision. Some say to argue against that vote and those statements sends a mixed message.

The Assembly of First Nations sent out a statement late Wednesday afternoon.

“It is extremely frustrating that the federal government has chosen to expend scarce resources to continue this case in court, rather than fulfilling the commitment under Jordan’s Principle with the health of our kids first,” said Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo. “If we’re genuinely committed to achieving solutions, we have to smash the status quo of protracted legal disputes that cost everyone. The lives and care of our children are at stake, and we must do everything in our power to support their health and safety. This is not something that can be disputed. It cannot wait.”

For now, Beadle will still sing her son Jeremy to sleep. She’ll wake in the morning knowing she has a full day ahead caring for him, just like she has done for his 18 years. And she hopes the government loses so she can carry on with Jeremy for years to come. But nothing at this point is guaranteed.

“The great thing about this is that the Pictou Landing band did step forward and has been paying for that care out of their general revenue which being a small band isn’t very much,” said Champ. “If we lose this case I think it’s going to be a certain thing that the Pictou Landing band won’t be able to continue with his care and he’ll have to leave his home, his community and his mother.”

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