Toronto Star's View: A victory for native children...
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Jan 27, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: A victory for native children and fair welfare funding

A landmark human rights ruling requires Ottawa to provide a fair level of funding for welfare services on reserves

OurWindsor.Ca

Canada is shortchanging native communities, shamefully. And as a result families are being broken up, kids are being put into foster care and suicide is on the rise. But now, in a signal victory for native children, that injustice may be coming to an end.

In a landmark ruling, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has slammed Ottawa for discriminating — for 25 years, no less — against vulnerable First Nations children living on reserves by providing less money for child welfare services than would be available off-reserve, although the needs are greater. Ottawa, it says, must “cease the discriminatory practice” and redress the wrong.

The tribunal also cites racism as a driver: “It is only because of their race and/or national or ethnic origin that they suffer the adverse impacts … in the provision of child and family services.”

These findings, which echo the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools, are a tribute to the tenacity of child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, and of the Assembly of First Nations. Back in 2007 they lodged a rights complaint on behalf of 163,000 kids. The indictment, delivered on Tuesday, should spur Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new government to redress this wrong. The upcoming federal budget must significantly hike funding in this area. As Blackstock says, “We need to make sure these children get what they need immediately.”

The tribunal found that Ottawa’s funding formula is based on “flawed assumptions,” hasn’t kept pace with the rising cost of living for two decades, fails to “reflect the service needs of many” and doesn’t cover prevention costs to keep kids in their homes by providing culturally appropriate supports. Rather, it perversely creates “an incentive to bring children into care.”

The tribunal said Ottawa should put into action “Jordan’s Principle” – a resolution of Parliament that requires the child to be put first. MPs passed it in 2007 after Jordan River Anderson spent five years — his entire short life — in hospital instead of home care, as Ottawa and Manitoba bickered over the bill.

What will it take to make this right? That’s yet to be decided. But the Indigenous and Northern Affairs department spends more than $8 billion a year, including $670 million on family services. Various experts have put the shortfall at 20 to 35 per cent. That implies a gap of $130 million to $230 million.

Trudeau has made a good start, reaching out to native leaders, promising to raise the cap on federal transfers for First Nations programs, launching an inquiry into missing and murdered women, and vowing to implement the Truth and Reconciliation panel’s many recommendations. The budget should bolster those good intentions with hard cash.

Toronto Star

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