Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted his funding record on Indigenous people when confronted on the campaign trail over an APTN News investigation that found 48 Indigenous children connected to child welfare died as his government ignored a human rights tribunal ruling.
“We know there is so much more to do on reconciliation. We know that this is something that Canadians expect and something we have worked very, very hard on over the past four years,” said Trudeau, during a stop in Sudbury, Ont., when asked by Globe and Mail reporter Marieke Walsh if he held any responsibility over the deaths.
Trudeau then went on to mention funding for education and ending many boil water advisories on-reserve as examples of the hard work.
But he didn’t specifically address the reporter’s question and wouldn’t answer a follow-up question when the reporter tried to force one through.
APTN News revealed Wednesday 102 Indigenous kids connected to child welfare in Ontario died between 2013 and 2017.
That includes 48 deaths involving Indigenous child welfare agencies after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the federal government purposely underfunded on-reserve child welfare on Jan. 26, 2016.
Canada was ordered to stop the practice but it would take more than two years before that would happen.
During that time 43 of the deaths were in the northern region of Ontario where three Indigenous agencies were under-funded approximately $400 million between 2013-2017 according to APTN’s investigation.
The first payment didn’t roll out until Feb. 21, 2018.
Meanwhile, children were dying more so during those two years waiting for Trudeau than the three years between 2013-2015.
Enough is enough said Joel Abram, grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians in southern Ontario.
“That’s blood on their hands in some ways because they are responsible for whole child welfare system,” said Abram, who does a lot of work on Indigenous child welfare.
“The province has to take a lot of responsibility, too. But the federal government created the conditions where agencies could take the kids in terms of creating conditions which is ripe with abject poverty, for not having safe drinking water. It’s all symptomatic.”
Abram said Trudeau can splash his “historic” funding of $18 billion into Indigenous communities over four years but it’s a drop in a bucket compared to what’s really needed.
So how much money is needed to see the child welfare numbers change?
“If you want to create a level playing field… that’s a crazy amount of money,” said Abram. “But I know it would probably be enough to almost bankrupt Canada right now.
“I’m thinking we would be approaching a trillion or two (across Canada) because you want to address the housing issues, you want to address water issues, you want to address a lot of those social inequality issues. You are talking about education, all these other areas.”
The Globe and Mail also put questions to Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in Montreal, Que.
Scheer was asked what he intends to do to address the issue of children dying.
“We’ll have more to say specifically on these types of issues through the campaign but I will say that I believe it is incredibly important for the Government of Canada to work with Indigenous leaders to ensure that children in care receive the highest levels of care possible,” he said. “That the funding is there behind it to ensure the levels of care address the needs of Indigenous children.”
But the Globe and Mail reporter didn’t let him off that easy.
“You were part of a government that spent decades fighting the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, what would you say to those that might say you might not have the moral authority to speak on this particular issue?” asked Kristy Kirkup, a reporter in the Globe’s national bureau in Ottawa.
Scheer said he is leader now.
“As leader of this party I have an opportunity to direct our own course on these types of issues and these are issues I will be taking very, very seriously,” he said.