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Canada: "Today is a bright day for First Nations children"

    Friday, November 30, 2012 - 11:25

    "Today is a bright day for First Nations children. The evidence of discrimination in the delivery of basic child welfare services, and the terrible consequences for First Nations children will finally be given the serious consideration that it deserves." - Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

    The Federal Court has ruled that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal was in error when it refused to examine evidence of whether a well-established pattern of federal underfunding of child welfare and child protection services in First Nations reserves is discriminatory.

    In doing so, the Court firmly rejected the federal government’s arguments that the issue was effectively outside the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

    This may finally clear the way for a full hearing into this landmark case.

    In a decision released today, the Court called the Tribunal's handling of the complaint unfair. The Court also said that Tribunal should not have accepted government interpretations of the Human Rights Act that the Court said were “inconsistent with the search for substantive equality.. and Canada’s equality jurisprudence."

    The Court has ruled that the substance of the discrimination complaint must now be examined by “a differently constituted panel of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.”

    The Court also affirmed that the interpretation of Canadian laws, including the Canadian Human Rights Act, should reflect the values and principles of international human rights laws and referred to instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    The original discrimination complaint was filed more than five years ago by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations.

    The Federal Court decision summarized the case in this way:
    "The Government of Canada funds child welfare services for First Nations children living on reserves. The provinces fund child welfare services for all other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children. The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint … in which they allege that the Government of Canada under-funds child welfare services for on-reserve First Nations children. They say that the result of this under-funding is that the level of some of the services provided for these children is inadequate, and that other child welfare services otherwise available to Canadian children are not available to First Nations children living on reserves. The complainants allege that this amounts to discrimination in the provision of services customarily available to the public on the grounds of race and national or ethnic origin."

    The Federal Court has instructed the Tribunal to begin hearings as soon as possible into the substance of this complaint.