APTN National News
OTTAWA–Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt defended Ottawa’s treatment of First Nation children Tuesday as the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal continued to hear closing arguments on a discrimination case against the federal government.
Valcourt faced questions from the NDP in the House of Commons over the lack of funding for First Nation child and family services.
NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said during question period that Ottawa was providing 22 per cent less funding for child services compared to provincial levels.
“The Conservative government is facing an unprecedented human rights tribunal for systematically discriminating against First Nation children on reserve,” said Crowder. “Its own experts have confirmed the shortfall. How can the prime minister justify treating children on reserve as second-class citizens?”
Valcourt said the Harper government had increased funding for Aboriginal Affairs’ child and family services program by 40 per cent since 2006 and the total had risen to almost $630 million.
“Protecting women and children, in particular on reserve, is and remains a priority of our government,” said Valcourt. “We will continue to take action to ensure that children and families have the support they need.”
A few blocks away, in an eleventh floor hearing room, the three-person Canadian Human Rights Tribunal panel continued to hear closing arguments in a discrimination case against the federal government. The First Nation Child and Family Caring Society along with the Assembly of First Nations launched the complaint alleging Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by spending less for child welfare compared to provincial child welfare systems serving non-Indigenous people.
Justice Canada lawyers have unsuccessfully tried to have the complaint thrown out on grounds the tribunal does not have the jurisdiction to rule on the matter.
There are currently between 30,000 to 40,000 Indigenous children in care across the country, according to Aboriginal Affairs’ numbers from 2012.