OTTAWA, April 18, 2012 /CNW/ - In a decision released today, the Federal
Court directed the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to examine evidence
that First Nations children are being discriminated against because of
federal underfunding of child protection services on reserve. This
decision confirms that the federal government can be held accountable
under the Canadian Human Rights Act for ensuring that First Nations
people on reserve have fair and equitable access to government
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) and the
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) filed the discrimination complaint more
than five years ago. However the evidence has never been examined
because of a series of technical objections raised by federal
"Today is a bright day for First Nations children," says FNCFCS
Executive Director Dr. Cindy Blackstock. "The evidence of
discrimination in the delivery of basic child welfare services, and the
terrible consequences for First Nations children will finally be given
the serious consideration that it deserves."
"This decision highlights the importance of immediately working in
mutual respect and partnership as required under the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, " said AFN National
Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. "We must all agree that lengthy and
costly legal battles are not the way forward. The priority is to
deliver on justice and fairness for our children, and the way forward
must be about working together focused on real action and results for
our kids and all First Nation peoples."
Although the inequities in First Nations child welfare have been well
documented by the Auditor General of Canada and others, the
discrimination complaint was dismissed by Canadian Human Rights
Tribunal Chair Shirish Chotalia who agreed with Canada that federally
funded child welfare services on reserve should not be compared with
provincially funded child welfare services off reserve even though the
same laws apply. AFN, the Caring Society and the Canadian Human Rights
Commission were concerned that such a ruling would immunize Ottawa from
any accountability for inequitable services on reserve and thus the
decision was appealed to Federal Court. The hearing was held on Feb
13-15, 2012 with approximately 200 people attending each day.
"Today's Federal Court decision is a victory for the principles of
fairness and justice, but most importantly for First Nations children.
The battle is not over and we will not rest until our children receive
the services they need and that are routinely provided to non-First
Nations children across this country," said AFN Ontario Regional Chief
In the decision, the Federal Court confirms that Canadian legislation
must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Charter, that
Aboriginal peoples should not be excluded from Canadian Human Rights
mechanisms, and that they occupy a unique position within Canada's
constitutional and legal structure. It further confirms that despite
the disadvantage and marginalization experienced by many First Nations
people, the appropriate applications of international instruments such
as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are relevant, appropriate
and can lead to significant application of justice.
The Court also affirmed that the interpretation of Canadian laws,
including the Canadian Human Rights Act, should reflect the values and
principles of international human rights laws and, in its reasons,
referred to instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"International human rights laws and standards are clear that there can
be no excuse for discrimination," said Amnesty International Canada
spokesperson Craig Benjamin. "We are very pleased that the Court has
sent such a strong message to the federal government about its duty to
live up to its international human rights obligations."
The Federal Court has instructed the Tribunal to begin hearings as soon
as possible into the substance of the complaint.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Chiefs of Ontario and Amnesty
International have all intervened in support of the complaint.
SOURCE FIRST NATIONS CHILD AND FAMILY CARING SOCIETY (FNCFCS)
For further information:
Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society: 613-230-5885 ext 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenna Young, Assembly of First Nations: 613-241-6789, ext. 401 or email@example.com
André Morriseau, Chiefs of Ontario: 416-597-1266 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Amnesty International Canada: 416-363-9933, ext. 332