Canadian Human Rights Tribunal landmark ruling for First Nations children

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On January 26, 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services compared to that available to other children.

In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint against the federal government, alleging that Canada’s failure to provide equitable and culturally based child welfare services to First Nations children on-reserve amounts to discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin. After several unsuccessful efforts by the federal government to have the case dismissed on legal technicalities, a hearing on the complaint began in February 2013 and was completed in October 2014. 

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the federal funding formula provides First Nations child and family services agencies with fewer resources than their provincial counterparts, between 22 and 34 percent less than what other children receive. Moreover, the Tribunal found that federal funding formulas and policies create a perverse incentive to place First Nations children in foster care and do not address the cultural needs of children.

The ruling calls for the redesign of the child welfare system and its funding model, and recommends increasing funding and support to allow First Nations to deliver their own child welfare.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission listed child welfare equity and reform as its top Call to Action. The decision compared on-reserve child welfare to the residential school system, where “the fate and future of many First Nations children is still being determined by the government.” In fact, there are more First Nations children in foster care today than were in residential schools at the height of the residential school era. 

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Banner image courtesy of ​​​​First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

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