Evidence of meeting #32 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aboriginal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

In terms of the timing of the court case, I would just ask where we are at, and could you let us know a bit about your work?

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Sure. The Federal Court ruled on April 18 that the hearing is supposed to proceed at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. We are working on that at the moment. We want to see that hearing going on as soon as possible, where all parties put their cards face up on the table and that we come out, hopefully, with a ruling for the benefit of first nations children.

Our anticipated timeline is that the hearing should happen in the fall. The only blockade to it is that Canada may appeal and that may delay the hearing.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Okay. Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you, Ms. Blackstock.

I now give the floor to a member from the government party.

Ms. Young, you have seven minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Thanks so much to the two of you for coming here today. Your testimony is certainly very compelling.

I used to be a native youth worker in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, so I understand well some of the massive issues, the complexities, and the sensitivities in addressing this very complex issue and problem.

Can I just pull you back...? Although we heard a lot from you, because you were both presenting a lot, for some of us who don't have the experience of the rural situation—and certainly I don't—can you tell us a little bit about the practicalities of what is happening right now? How many children needing schooling are there in a place like Attawapiskat? How many teachers are there?

Give us some basics that we can sort of wrap our heads around, if you can. I'll leave that open to either of you.

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Well, there are 160,000 first nations children, and approximately half of them are on reserves.

The reports I would commend to you, member, are the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report on first nations schools, authored in 2009. He did a rather thorough inventory of the needs of first nations schools in terms of bringing them up to the same standards as offered in the provinces and territories. Of course there's the recent report by the first nations panel on elementary and secondary education, and of course your colleagues in the Senate also just did a report on first nations education. They demarcate, really, where are those areas where investments could be made that would make the most significant impacts for children. In terms of child welfare, there's the Auditor General's report of 2008 and her refresh report in 2011.

As well, a joint report was done between first nations and the government in 2005. The Wen:de report involved over 20 leading experts, including five economists. We wanted to make sure that we were being very fiscally prudent, that we could link every penny we were recommending to be spent with actually good evidence on what happens on the ground in child welfare for children.

Member, I know that you yourself are very familiar with foster care with the work that you were doing in terms of the development of foster care programs, etc., and your own family's commitment.

If you'd like a copy of those reports, we'd be happy to send them to your office.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

I'd like to suggest that perhaps you table those reports for the purposes of this committee and for the education and information of all the members here. This is certainly an issue of grave concern, I think, not only to your community but for us as well, because we do want not just economic but also social stability and development, etc., for the children, that's for sure.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

What we're finding is that when we go across the country and talk to first nations and non-aboriginal kids, first nations kids have dreams of becoming physicians, of becoming business owners, of wanting to be pharmacists, of wanting to be artists. They really do want to make the very best contribution they can for their families and communities. I think these investments in them would help make a far better country for us all, as you point out.

May 2nd, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

If I may, I'd like to focus again on some of the complexities of this very big issue. As we know, it's not just a simple matter of dollars, right? I mean, some of these communities are very remote. Even getting teachers and staffing and a set of supplies to them is difficult at times, given winter conditions, etc., in Canada.

In addition to that, when you mirror that with what's happening in the urban centres, we do have some serious problems there, too, in terms of accomplishment rates, graduation rates, and all of those kinds of things. So we know there are some social issues tied in with the educational issues, which then are challenges for economic success, correct?

Given all of that, I guess what I'd like to ask you, given your extensive knowledge and experience in this area is this. Where are the areas, if you had to name the top three, where we can get the biggest bang for our activity or investment? I'm going to ask each of you to respond to this question, given that we have time.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

I would say that I look at funding as enabling, as being the first domino. If you follow that, then the implementation of best practices is possible.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

But what if we were to take that away? I mean, funding is an obvious thing, right? So let's take that way.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

If we take that away, I would say poverty reduction strategies and investments in programs or even corporate partnerships.

There's a great partnership, and I'm not sure the committee has heard about this, by the National Australia Bank with regard to payday loan operations, for example, which in my personal view are very exploitive of the poor. They charge interest rates that the middle class and rich would never consider paying. In Australia the anti-poverty groups and aboriginal communities went to the National Australia Bank in that country. The bank actually decided it would set up competition for these payday loan operations and provide microcredit to the poor.

That kind of operation has significantly enhanced people's lives and lifted them out of poverty, in some instances, because as you get into that payday loan operation, it can really create a circle of poverty.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

But are you familiar with the fact that Canada currently funds federal micro-loan programs through various banks and institutions, available at very good rates?

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

Right, but not as probably systematically as we were seeing in Australia. There was also an envelope around it of economic development and education, etc. So it's worth taking a look at.

The other thing is substance misuse and mental health treatment. I think it's really critical; it's really what drives a lot of the problems that we're seeing in our communities. If these were more widely available...along with investments in terms of self-esteem and cultural and language investments. We know from the research that girls growing up with a good sense of who they are, feeling proud of who they are, are less likely to get involved in domestic violence, less likely to get involved in other risky behaviours, and more set up for success.

Those would be my three.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Okay.

Ms. Dumont-Smith.