Evidence of meeting #146 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was services.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Isa Gros-Louis  Director General, Child and Family Services Reform, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Joanne Wilkinson  Assistant Deputy Minister, Child and Family Services Reform, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Laurie Sargent  Assistant Deputy Minister, Aboriginal Affairs Portfolio, Department of Justice
Chief Robert Bertrand  Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Cindy Blackstock  Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada
Jennifer Cox  Barrister and Solicitor and Project Lead, Enhanced Child Family Initiative, Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn
Paul Morris  Lead Counsel, Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services of Nova Scotia
Duane Smith  Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation

11:25 a.m.

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

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

What I am prepared to say is that for those amendments we put in there regarding funding, the clarification around the socio-economic conditions so that can be real and the recommendations around changing of jurisdictions, we see those as fundamental for the success of this bill.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

By doing that, you imply this is an appropriate bill to be pursued.

11:25 a.m.

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

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

I've already gone on the record and have said that I absolutely support the aim of this bill—

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Super.

11:25 a.m.

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

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

—but I feel that the text is deficient.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Robert.

11:25 a.m.

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

National Chief Robert Bertrand

I would have to give it thumbs down because we were never consulted.

I have a few statistics here in front of me. They state that nearly half—49%—of the off-reserve first nations children were in low-income families, compared with 18% of non-aboriginal children. In Manitoba, for instance, 90% of children who are in care are indigenous, amounting to something like 10,550 children. In Saskatchewan, there are 5,930 indigenous children in care. In British Columbia, it is one in five.

There is a deep problem, but I don't think.... It's a wonderful first step, but they've left so much out. They've just scratched the surface. I'm looking at these numbers here. They're finding a solution for just a very small number of cases. It should have been more broad based.... It should have included a lot more people.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

I see that you wear an MP pin, so you know how this place works, to some degree.

11:25 a.m.

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

National Chief Robert Bertrand

Yes. I just wear it so I don't have to go through security.

11:25 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

April 30th, 2019 / 11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

I know how that goes.

I know that in some instances.... I've put private members' bills on the Order Paper, and I've been involved in a number where we'd go out and do a kind of horizon scan and put it on the Order Paper to get the feedback. Is that what's happening with this particular bill?

Given the time to an election, it seems to me that if this were something the government was adamant about, they would have introduced it two and a half years ago. It just seems interesting that we are at this place with this bill in front of us and that those issues around consultation and getting agreements with the provinces aren't in place for this bill at this point. Could you comment on that?

11:30 a.m.

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

National Chief Robert Bertrand

I don't know why the timing of the bill.... You know, it would have been better, as you say, to have it two or three years before. Everything the government does right now is distinction-based, and if you look at section 35, nothing is said about distinction-based. What the constitution refers to is Indians, Métis and Inuit. There's no such thing as first nations. I mean, it's there—it's the creation of the Canadian government—but it should be more inclusive.

I remember when this government came into power, the main talking point was inclusiveness. At CAP we were so happy to hear these things, but it's inclusive for only certain groups of indigenous people. What we wanted was to make sure that those off reserve, whether they be status or non-status, were also included.

As I'm sure you already know, back in 2016, CAP won a very decisive Supreme Court battle with the Daniels decision, but we haven't seen the federal government move on that decision so far. We did sign, back in December, a political accord. One of the items on the political accord was the ramifications of the Daniels decision, but nothing is moving.

To come back to what you were saying about why they waited this late, I have no idea. I cannot answer that. You'd have to ask the Prime Minister that.

Thank you.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

We're going to move the questioning to MP Rachel Blaney.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'm going to pass it on to Georgina.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you very much.

I'll get right to the point.

The principles of the Human Rights Tribunal, Cindy, are not in the legislation. What do you think are the impacts of those not being in the legislation?

11:30 a.m.

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

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

I think that could actually potentially roll back the clock for first nations children. Thanks to the tribunal and thanks to the work of first nations across this country, we have, just as of 2018, been receiving funding at actuals for prevention. They are not, I should say, providing any money for capital. That's a problem in itself. We could develop a prevention program and maybe host it in a first nation, but there's no money to build the programs. That's still at litigation.

If these principles are not ingrained in this piece, then there will be a bit of a free-for-all on these funding agreements. That's a concern for me, because I think we're finally making progress thanks to the tribunal's decision.

These principles, I think, should be regardless of political party. Everyone should be able to support these for children. I don't know why it's controversial to include them in the bill, to be frank. I think these are fundamental principles about the way we should be treating any child in Canada.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

You spoke about the undercurrents of poverty. I often speak about those experiences also, because I see those quite heavily in my riding and throughout Saskatchewan, when I go to the reserves and the Métis communities.

How can we at the national level and the federal government think about that? How can we continue to raise these issues? It's not just about housing and about lifting the boil-water advisories. It's actually about fixing the whole system so that there will be clean drinking water every day for the reserve, and the list goes on.

11:35 a.m.

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

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

I think that's why the Spirit Bear plan is so essential. One of the things that I think are important to put on the record is that in the 153 years that Canada has been around, there has never been a comprehensive plan to reduce all the inequalities that first nations children, youth and families face. Never.

The Spirit Bear plan was the answer to that. It was to develop a comprehensive plan, almost like the Marshall plan. After the Second World War, for those of you who are World War II buffs, the allies got together and developed a comprehensive plan to rebuild Europe. We say that's exactly what's needed here. We need to create that platform of culturally based equity upon which families and children and youth have an opportunity to thrive.

My goal is to have thriving kids—that's what I want to see—who are proud of who they are and who can grow up in their families and get a good education. I think the Spirit Bear plan is essential to that. Absent a plan, we're going to see the same tendency we've seen for the last more than 153 years. That is governments dealing with the inequalities program by program and drop by drop. That hasn't worked. If we still have inequalities in programs, we need the Sprit Bear plan.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Thank you so much, Cindy. I want to recognize the amazing work that you've done for so long on behalf of indigenous children. I think when we look at the systems—and I want to bring it back to the Spirit Bear plan, because one of the things talked about in there is where that systemic racism is and to start pulling it out. I think one of the biggest challenges is that, because it is normalized and because it has been for so long, it's really hard to pull that out.

I'm wondering if you can speak to what that would really mean across the board, not only in this legislation but fundamentally in the relationship between indigenous communities and Canada.

11:35 a.m.

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

Dr. Cindy Blackstock

One of the things we hear about a lot is the commitment to reconciliation. I don't question that. I think that many good people across all political parties and across all walks of life are committed to reconciliation.

But, as you say, the whole construct of discrimination, this bifurcation of Canadian society into the savage and the civilized, which underpins colonialism, is in the DNA of the Canadian government and of the provincial and territorial governments.

When we see the Department of Indian Affairs and its descendants—now Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada—continuing to litigate against children at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, despite making commitments to implement their calls to action, we have to ask ourselves how we can ventilate these departments in ways that will make that structural racism apparent and in ways that will deal with it. I'm not criticizing individual employees. What I am saying is that it's in the system.

Part of the Spirit Bear plan is to have an independent evaluation of the department done, a 360 evaluation. It's never been done in the history of the country despite its role in residential schools, the sixties scoop and child welfare today. Get that done and then work with departmental officials and with other indigenous peoples and recalibrate the philosophy and the ways of working within the department and more broadly within the Canadian government, and hopefully in provincial and territorial governments too, so that we can recalibrate that relationship.

Unless you have someone coming in from the outside looking at the department.... The department has already proven it cannot reform itself even if it wants to.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Thank you.

I have only a few seconds, but is there is anything you'd like to add on that issue, Robert? I think she said it very well.

11:35 a.m.

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

The underlying poverty is something...because it is about supporting the family and there is that need for the extra resources just to get anywhere near equitable.

Thank you.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you so much for coming forward and presenting.

I'm sorry, on behalf of all MPs, for the curtailed opportunity to continue our questioning, but we have been called for a vote.

I wish to thank you. Meegwetch.

The meeting is suspended.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Good afternoon. Welcome to our committee, the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs of Parliament.

We are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people here in Ottawa. I come from the land of Treaty No.1 and the homeland of the Métis people.

We do that because we always want to remember why we have such critical issues like child and family apprehensions or those in care. The number of indigenous children in care compared with others indicates that we have a systemic problem and Parliament is looking to address these issues.

We want to welcome our experts to the committee. I understand that you're modified. You're going to have three presenters and you are going to have seven minutes each or thereabouts.

If we find that the other panellist comes in time, we'll invite them to join as well. That was a little administration to make this work. We'll get started.

Chief Prosper, do you want to start and then tell us how it's all going to work out?