FREDERICTON (GNB) – The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate applauds the decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering the federal government to offer First Nations children the same level of child and family services as that provided to other Canadian children.

The complaint filed in 2007 by the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations and Family Caring Society of Canada spoke of the underfunding of child welfare services for First Nations communities. According to the complaint, this led to more widespread placement of aboriginal children living on reserves, who were taken from their families, rather than seeking alternative solutions.

The tribunal concluded that First Nations children are victims of discrimination and are treated unfairly with respect to funding practices for services intended for them, and called on the government to review the formula. Some of the grounds for the decision are based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Canada.

“This decision finally recognizes equal dignity and rights for all Canadian children, including First Nations children,” said Child and Youth Advocate Norm Bossé. “This is one more step toward the recognition and implementation of children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is our office’s roadmap.”

Bossé termed the decision historic, because the tribunal puts the inequalities suffered by First Nations children resulting from underfunding into the context of the collective trauma caused by the residential schools. It says that services to aboriginal children must be culturally appropriate and must reflect the needs of the community, while ensuring that the children can build their identity in their community, as this identity is threatened when children are placed outside their family (paragraphs 425 and 426 of the tribunal’s decision).

Bossé said that the decision is of interest to New Brunswick since it calls on the federal and provincial governments to take the interest of children and communities into account in the reform of assistance to communities living on reserves. He said that funding operated according to an economic logic with no consideration of social factors and First Nations history.

A first step in the change that this decision could instigate in New Brunswick could, according to the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, take the form of tracking First Nations funding.

“First Nations children in our province face the inequalities revealed by this decision. Our Hand-in-Hand report, released in 2010, recommended that the federal government increase funding of child and family welfare services on reserves to set up a specialized office as an agent to use the funding to provide culturally-sensitive prevention services throughout New Brunswick’s 15 First Nations communities,” Bossé said. “We need to provide the funding to improve the determinants of child well-being, including recreational activities, household income, and problems related to addiction and housing, and cultural and linguistic identity faced by First Nations communities.”

Since the Hand-in Hand report was tabled, band chiefs and aboriginal communities in New Brunswick have continued to advocate for First Nations children before the courts and to members of Parliament.
“We hope that the tribunal’s decision will promote a timely, productive conclusion to the negotiations between First Nations communities, chiefs and band councils, and the two levels of government,” Bossé said. “The path chosen is that of healing and reconciliation in the wake of a tragic collective history whose consequences are still evident today.”

The Child and Youth Advocate is an officer of the legislative assembly, acting independently to protect and promote the rights of children in the province. Additional information is available online.