The decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to dismiss the allegation that the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs has been guilty of racial discrimination against First Nations children, comes as a huge shock to anyone who knows the history of mistreatment of aboriginal communities in Canada. The allegation that children on reserves receive on average 22% less funding than other children in Canada was made by the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCSC) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). The residential schools tell a shameful story of the abuse of children, families and a whole culture so disturbing that it has already occasioned a heart felt apology from the Prime Minister himself. The current reality was well described in the excellent presentation that Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director, FNCFCSC made to the Tribunal.
DCI-Canada attended the Tribunal hearings in Ottawa. Our mandate requires that we should support children in seeking their rights under the U.N.Convention on the Rights of the Child. No matter how deftly the Government of Canada squeals and squirms to avoid responsibility, at the end of the day the families of First Nations children receive substantially less support from the Canadian government than the families of other children. It is unconscionable that the State would argue in support of a situation that is clearly a violation of human rights.
The Government chose to respond by persistently avoiding the facts that Cindy Blackstock presented. After the initial hearing, at which the Commissioner voiced concern about the delaying tactics, we were informed that a new Commissioner had been appointed. To many of the onlookers it was clear that the games had started and there would be no relief from the history of oppression for the children of First Nations on the reserves.
The Provincial Child Advocate for Ontario, Irwin Elman, has already pledged his support for an appeal of the decision. We strongly agree. DCI-Canada has been directly involved in the scandal at Attawapisket, a remote First Nations community on James Bay, where a large leak of diesel oil caused the local school to be closed. It reopened in portable accommodation in conditions of severe discomfort and there should be little surprise that children who attempt to study in full winter armour are cynical about promises that, one day, a new school will be provided. It has reached the point at which the children cannot believe what the Minister tells them.
In the view of DCI-Canada there has been a chain of reports of inadequate and uncaring responses that cannot be remedied until the Government of Canada begins to show genuine respect for the rights of the First Nations children and pays attention to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Defence for Children International-Canada
905-582-6948 905-928-7792 (cell)