UNICEF responds to landmark decision of the Human Rights Tribunal, outlining critical next steps for Canada's children

TORONTO/OTTAWA, Jan. 26, 2016 /CNW/ - UNICEF Canada has responded to today's ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that involved a 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 under the Canadian Human Rights Act. UNICEF Canada's President and CEO, David Morley, and Chief Policy Advisor, Marv Bernstein, were on hand in Toronto and Ottawa with the following responses:

From Toronto, David Morley, UNICEF Canada's President and CEO:
"Today's historic ruling is a critical step to ensuring that all Canadian children—particularly our most vulnerable—are treated equitably. We have a long history of inequitable treatment of First Nations children that must be recognized, atoned for and addressed moving forward so they have the same rights, access to services and opportunities as every other Canadian child.

Today is also a red letter day for advancing children's rights in Canada. By promoting the right of Aboriginal children to be free from discrimination and their right to access prevention services that will enable them to remain with their families and communities, where it is safe to do so, the Tribunal has set an important precedent. It has delivered a decision that is in keeping with Canada's international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as with its domestic legal obligations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—all fundamental commitments to who we are as a nation.

Today's ruling, coming on the heels of the recent recommendations released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, represents a very important step towards healing the atrocities of the past and educating Canadians about the challenges faced by Aboriginal children, challenges perpetuated by a broken system that we can and must fix. As Canadians we value our children above all else and know that their health, well-being and access to opportunities are essential to our shared future prosperity."

From Ottawa, Marv Bernstein, UNICEF Canada's Chief Policy Advisor:
"Aboriginal children are drastically over-represented in child welfare care, perpetuating a historical pattern of removing Aboriginal children from their homes that started with the residential school system, one of Canada's darkest times. A chronic lack of prevention services for children and families on-reserve has left them without the tools they need to work through challenges, resulting in three times as many First Nations children being removed from their families today than at the height of the residential school system.

Fair and non-discriminatory treatment is the right of every child in Canada. First Nations children should not receive less government funding for essential services than other children and should have an equal opportunity to grow up safely at home and in their communities. Now that this discrimination has been found to exist after a lengthy, nine-year litigation process, we must act immediately to implement the Tribunal's ruling.  Nine years is an eternity in the childhood of a girl or boy in critical need of services and supports that have been systematically denied throughout their short lives.

Today's decision is a watershed moment and must serve as a catalyst to end inequities on all levels—not just in child welfare services—including the rights of Canada's Aboriginal children to health, education, housing and clean water. Moving from this point forward as a nation we need to continue this journey towards reconciliation and ensure that indigenous children are as healthy, well-educated and supported in their communities as we want all of our children to be. The equitable and fair treatment of Aboriginal citizens and their children is everyone's responsibility and not just that of government."

UNICEF Canada's outlines the next steps to ensuring the equitable treatment of all of Canada's children:

  1. Fund preventive services that help keep families together where it is safe to do so, instead of incentivizing removal, which is ultimately more costly to all concerned. One of the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in its Report is for "the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care" by, among other things, "providing adequate resources to enable Aboriginal communities and child-welfare organizations to keep Aboriginal families together where it is safe to do so, and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments, regardless of where they reside."
  2. Make Jordan's Principle work better. In a recent research report released by the Jordan's Principle Working Group (of which UNICEF Canada is a member), the Working Group called on the federal and provincial/territorial governments to work together to implement both immediate and  longer-term systemic measures to address issues of underfunding and jurisdictional ambiguity that cause denials, delays and disruptions in services for First Nations children on-reserve that don't occur for other children living off-reserve. One of the TRC Report Calls to Action is for "all levels of government to fully implement Jordan's Principle".
  3. Establish a federal-provincial/territorial-indigenous child welfare table, which features open and honest dialogue, comprehensive review, effective coordination and shared accountability.
  4. Establish an Office of a National Commissioner for Children and Youth, with authority, among other things, to give special attention to the rights and interests of Aboriginal children and to facilitate the resolution of inter-jurisdictional disputes between different levels of government, as well as between different departments within the federal government.
  5. Incorporate the use of Child Rights Impact Assessments at all levels of government to ensure that both intended and unintended impacts are considered before legislation, policy, programming and other administrative decisions are implemented.

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca. For updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit unicef.ca.


For further information: To arrange interviews or for more information please contact: Tiffany Baggetta, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8892, 647-308-4806 (mobile), tbaggetta@unicef.ca


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