NAN and ALST Coalition welcome Goudge Inquiry recommendations, call for immediate action on the failure to deliver essential services to aboriginal communities

    TORONTO, Oct. 1 /CNW/ - Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief
Alvin Fiddler together with Muskrat Dam First Nation Chief Vernon Morris and
Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALST) Executive Director Kimberly Murray
welcomed today's Goudge Inquiry recommendations.
    For the first time with this report, the truth has been told about the
systematic failure by the Office of the Chief Coroner to deliver essential
services to First Nations communities. Most disturbingly, Commissioner Goudge
concluded that coroners do not attend deaths in First Nations communities and
often families who have lost children in First Nations communities never hear
from coroners about the cause of their child's death or about the location of
their child's remains. (Commission Report, Volume 3, pages 547-548).
    "The report confirms the experience of NAN members, the vast majority of
which have never even seen a coroner in their communities. It is an appalling
reality that families who lose a child are often not told how their child
died, or even where their child's remains have been taken", said NAN Deputy
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
    The NAN and ALST Coalition are one of 12 groups and individuals with
standing in the public inquiry into Ontario's paediatric forensic pathology
system as granted by Inquiry Commissioner Justice Stephen Goudge August 2007.
    "Now that the truth has come out, it is time for action," NAN/ALST
Coalition lawyer Julian Falconer said. "For far too long First Nations
communities have been denied services the rest of this province takes for
granted. Commissioner Goudge has taken an important step in recognizing that
the Province of Ontario must work in partnership with First Nation governments
to fix this problem."
    In place of doctors, coroners have been relying on police officers to act
as their surrogates in First Nations communities. The NAN/ALST Coalition
recommended that Commissioner Goudge consider the creation of community-based
investigators, who are best placed to know about and respond to health
problems in their own communities.
    "There has been a failure to recognize the skills and knowledge we have
within our own communities. We are pleased to see a recommendation that the
OCCO work with Aboriginal communities to evaluate the use of community-based
investigators in place of coroners. Community-based solutions are desperately
needed to address the ongoing failure of the Coroner's Office to investigate
deaths in First Nation communities," said Muskrat Dam First Nation Chief
Vernon Morris.
    Justice Goudge was asked to make recommendations to improve and restore
public confidence in the system that scrutinizes child deaths in Ontario. The
five month long Goudge Inquiry held hearings in Northern Ontario to hear
directly from First Nation communities and organizations.
    The commission of inquiry was set up by the Province of Ontario after a
coroner's review found child pathologist Dr. Charles Smith erred in 20 of 45
autopsies conducted from 1981 to 2001. In 13 of those cases, people were
convicted of crimes, including killing their own children.
    The rate of infant and preschooler deaths within Aboriginal communities
is 4 to 5 times higher than in non-Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal infants
are three times more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than
non-Aboriginal infants.
    NAN and ALST represent the diverse interests of Aboriginal people and
communities, combining the perspectives of on-reserve and off-reserve,
northern and southern, urban and rural, political/territorial and service
providers within the Aboriginal community of Ontario.

    Nishnawbe Aski Nation is a political territorial organization
representing 49 First Nation communities across two-thirds of the province of

    Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto is a multi-service legal agency
providing services to First Nation communities across the province.

For further information:

For further information: Kristy Hankila, A/Director of Communications,
Nishnawbe Aski Nation, (807) 625-4952 or (807) 629-1512 (mobile); Kimberly
Murray, Executive Director, Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, (416)
408-4041 ext 225; Odi Dashsambuu, Falconer Charney LLP, (416) 964-3408,
extension 248

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