That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child first principle, based on Jordan’s Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present Motion No. 296 to the House, which calls on the government to immediately adopt a child first principle based on Jordan’s principle. This motion has been motivated by the need for this country to look at ending discrimination against First Nations children.
Before I speak about the circumstances, I want to specifically acknowledge Jordan and his family, the many people who have stood behind them and the Norway House Cree Nation in bringing this matter to the House’s attention. Others like the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada have all worked tirelessly to ensure that we truly do put substance behind the notion that children should be first in this country. Amnesty International has also stood behind the people working on this very important matter.
I want to tell the House a bit about Jordan and who he is. Jordan was born in 1999 with a complex set of genetic and medical conditions. For the first two years of his life he was in hospital and required a wide variety of medical services. The unfortunate story is that because of the lack of services on the reserve, his family had to make the decision to give the child up so he could access the best possible care.
After two years of being in hospital, the medical team determined that Jordan was able to leave the hospital and go to a special foster home where he could get the kind of care that would substantially improve his quality of life. Unfortunately, during the two years when Jordan could have gone into a home and had all the sights, sounds, senses and the love that a home environment would provide, Jordan spent those last two years in hospital.
The reason he spent that time in hospital was because governments had to argue, wrangle and discuss who should pay for Jordan’s care. We talk about children being one of our most valuable assets, about being a country that cherishes its children, and yet we allowed that child to die in a hospital without the benefit of a home setting.
I would argue that appropriate care is one of the most fundamental of human rights in this country. Just in case we thought that perhaps it was going to be far too expensive to put Jordan into a foster home, I want to quote from a paper called “Honouring Jordan: Putting First Nations children first and funding fights second”. It was a paper written by Trudy Lavallee.
In the paper she talks about the fact that it was not that foster care was more expensive and that the remedies were not available to provide this child the benefit of a home. She stated: “If the use of public funds in a responsible manner were at the centre of the storm of government disagreements, it was not evident because they paid the hospital twice the rate of what it would have cost to place him in a foster home.”
If we are talking about accountability, governments would have been far more accountable to provide this child with a home than to allow him to languish in hospital until he died. I cannot imagine, as a mother and grandmother, what it must have been like for his parents to know that their son did not have access to a home in the final two years of his life.
I wish I could stand here and say that the situation has changed. Here we are two years later and there are still First Nations children living on reserves who do not have access to the same quality of care that other children in this country have access to.
There was a recent release by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs dated April 3, 2007 entitled, “Disabled children lose services because governments won’t pay”. It is about Norway House and states:
“Thirty-seven profoundly disabled children on this First Nations reserve will lose essential services–”
Again, this is because of ongoing jurisdictional disputes.
Further on down in the paper it says:
A recent research report in Manitoba found that First Nations parents often place their children with disabilities in child welfare care, so they can be sure the children get access to the specialized services they so desperately need. Yet children whose parents want to keep them at home may suffer physical pain without those services.
Even today mothers and fathers are having to give up their children to the state in order to ensure that they receive adequate care because we fail to provide, as a federal government, adequate funding to ensure that these children get the care they need in their homes.
We often speak in Canada about how proud we are that we are a country that has a high quality standard of living. Under the United Nations human development index, Canada is rated as number six. However, when we actually factor the plight of aboriginal children and their families into the complex system that talks about well-being in this country, Canada is ranked 78th, and that rank places us between Lebanon and Kazakhstan.
We have had international agencies looking at the plight of children and families on First Nations reserves in this country. They talk about the water, housing, health care, and certainly the issue around child care, access to protective care and welfare services for children.
The Assembly of First Nations has actually filed a Canadian human rights complaint about the lack of funding for First Nations children. Right now we have more than 27,000 First Nations children in care in this country from coast to coast to coast.
We have more children removed from their families than at the height of the residential schools system. I cannot imagine the grief that this causes to families because they do not have the support they need in order to care for their children.
Much has been made of the fact that many of these children are removed from their families, but they are removed from their families because of issues around poverty. They are removed from their families because their families do not have the resources to provide that adequate housing and other services.
We had something called least disruptive measures. In our country the federal government will fund to have children removed from their homes, but it will not fund those least disruptive measures.
Many provinces have already agreed that this is the most effective way to work with children who need some additional services, but our federal government has failed to provide that.
These are the key findings from the “Wen:de we are coming to the light of day and the journey continues” report. This is a summary that was put out on March 12, 2007. In that summary it says:
The primary reason why First Nations children come to the attention of the child welfare system is neglect. When researchers unpack the definition of neglect, poverty, substance misuse and poor housing are the key factors contributing to the over representation of First Nations children amongst substantiated child welfare cases.
Further on in this report it talks about the fact that an additional $109 million is needed in year one of the proposed formula to redress existing funding shortfalls along with the levels of funding indicated for subsequent years.
They also talk about the fact that jurisdictional disputes between and among federal and provincial governments are substantial problems with 12 First Nations child and family service agencies experiencing 393 jurisdictional disputes in this last year alone. These disputes often result in First Nations children on reserve being denied or delayed receipt of services that are otherwise available to other Canadian children.
In a country that prides itself on its human rights record, I would argue that by having children continue to not have access to services on reserve that we take for granted in every other part of this country is truly a violation of human rights.
In a recent report that the other place is been putting out, it looked at the UN convention on the rights of the child. In that UN convention on the rights of the child report, we are again cited internationally for what is happening to aboriginal children in this country.
There are a couple of points I want to raise from that report under child protection issues. It says that one of the most prominent and recurring themes with respect to aboriginal children in Canada is their disproportionate representation within the child welfare system.
Not only are children overrepresented, but as we have seen in the case of Jordan, we cannot even agree upon what adequate services would be and then fund them.
There were lots of experts in Jordan’s case who talked about the fact that he needed access to a wheelchair, a special shower head, and yet the federal government would not come to the table and put Jordan’s needs first. They refused to say that this child needed the care that he needed and that they would worry about who would pay later.
Again, in the UN Convention on the rights of the child it talks about the fact that a report released by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada in August 2005 stated that between 1995 and 2001 the number of registered Indian children entering care rose by 71.5% nationally.
The organization’s 2005 one day report found that there are three times more First Nations children in care now than at the height of the residential schools era in the 1940s. It goes on to say that the situation is particularly dire in British Columbia where over 50% of children in permanent care are aboriginal, and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba 80% of children in care are aboriginal. These numbers are startling.
The work that the Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and Norway House Cree Nation have been doing over the years has all fallen on deaf ears. This has been going on for decades, but Jordan’s case arose in 1999.
It is through their efforts that finally in 2007 this matter is finally on the floor of the House of Commons.
How many other children in the last six years have ended up being removed from their homes and not receiving the services they need because of this wrangling?
I would urge each and every member of this House to support the motion I have brought before the House to say that First Nations children in Canada on reserve truly should come first and should receive the same care that other children in Canada receive.
I will close with a quote from a release by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Fontaine. He said:
The motion asks a simply question: Do Canadians accept the fact that their health care system treats certain children differently because of the race or community they belong to? And further, do Canadians accept that this double standard can result in death or disability? This practice should not be allowed to exist or be accepted as a normal business practice. We must stand together to protect and nurture the health and well-being of all children across Canada.
I would ask each and every member here to support this important motion and say that First Nations children on reserve do deserve to be treated fairly, equally and with justice in this country.