Evidence of meeting #149 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 c-92.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Cheryl Casimer  Political Executive Member, First Nations Summit
Chief Edward John  Political Executive Member, First Nations Summit
Bobby Narcisse  Director of Social Services, Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Jeffry Nilles  Student, As an Individual
Julian Falconer  Legal Advisor, Nishnawbe Aski Nation
David Chartrand  President, Manitoba Metis Federation
Tischa Mason  Executive Director, Saskatchewan First Nations Family and Community Institute
Marlene Bugler  Executive Director, Kanaweyimik Child and Family Services
Katherine Whitecloud  Grandmother, As an Individual
Chief Perry Bellegarde  Assembly of First Nations
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond  Director of Indian Residential School Centre for History and Dialogue, and Professor, Allard Law School, University of British Columbia, As an Individual
Chief Arlen Dumas  Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
Alyssa Flaherty-Spence  President, Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre
Karen Baker-Anderson  Executive Director, Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre
Natasha Reimer  Director for Manitoba, Youth in Care Canada and Foster Up Founder, As an Individual
Cora Morgan  First Nations Family Advocate, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
Wayne Christian  Tribal Chief, Secwepemc Nation, Shuswap Nation Tribal Council
Katherine Hensel  Principal Lawyer, Hensel Barristers Professional Corporation, As an Individual
Lisa MacLeod  Minister of Children, Community and Social Services and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, Government of Ontario
Theresa Stevens  Executive Director, Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario
Amber Crowe  Board Secretary, Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario

8:35 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Good morning, everybody. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it. We're studying a very important bill that tries to make progress on the issue of Canada's handling of indigenous child and family services systems. The statistics indicate that we're doing a bad job, and we're looking to try to make things better, so your advice is very important.

Before we get started, we recognize that we're on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people, not just as a formality or just in somebody's speech, but as an opportunity for all of us, particularly in this committee, and for all Canadians—as we're televised—to think about it. Whether you know an indigenous family or are a settler family, I encourage you to think about Canada's history and understand the truth. As we all move forward in reconciliation, it's one of the most important things that we can do as a nation, and it is urgent.

Thank you so much for coming. You typically have up to 10 minutes. If you take less time than that, you get a reward. I'll give you a signal when we're getting close to the end of your time. After we hear from every group, we'll go into questions from the members.

We're going to begin with the First Nations Summit and Grand Chief Edward John and Cheryl Casimer.

Welcome. When you're ready, we can start.

8:35 a.m.

Cheryl Casimer Political Executive Member, First Nations Summit

[Witness spoke in Ktunaxa]


Good morning, everyone. Thank you for providing me an opportunity to share some thoughts on the bill with you. I'd like to start off by acknowledging the unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples and thanking them for allowing us to do this important work.

I'm a member of the political executive with the First Nations Summit in British Columbia. We represent those first nations involved in and supportive of treaty negotiations with Canada and British Columbia. I'm also a member of the First Nations Leadership Council, which is a political collaboration among the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and the BC Assembly of First Nations.

The bill before you for study is one of the most single important pieces of legislation for first nations people in a generation.

For the 204 first nations communities and tribal councils in British Columbia, and for our nations that are actively working to put in place our child and family laws and policies within our systems of government, this legislation is long overdue.

We have been working with Canada and British Columbia to prepare for implementation of first nations jurisdiction. We confirmed in 2015 that we would pursue legislative, policy and practice reform to achieve this objective. We know that the task of reform is daunting, but it is one of the most important tasks we will have.

Bill C-92 must be understood within the context of the status quo for first nations children. The reality is that there are approximately 5,000 first nations children in care in British Columbia and approximately 40,000 in Canada. This is more children than there were in the residential schools at the height of their operations.

We collectively face a humanitarian and national human rights crisis. I acknowledge the work of former minister Jane Philpott, who called a national emergency meeting in January 2018 to find a means to address this national crisis in partnership with first nations and address the issue around first nations children, family and communities.

We see Bill C-92 as a significant and important first federal step in the legislative reform necessary to support first nations in exercising their jurisdiction over child welfare. While there are opportunities to strengthen Bill C-92, the bill has many positive features.

First nations in B.C. want to take this next step of work, and Bill C-92 provides the necessary support for us to do so and to give proper footing to this work for the implementation stages. It will finally enable Canada to work with first nations in a meaningful way, based on the recognition and respect of our rights, to transform child welfare and restore indigenous systems and approaches to supporting children and families.

There are at least six major aspects of this bill that will build upon our work and take it to that next level: one, priority for prevention approaches; two, provisions on substantive equality; three, best interests of the child provisions; four, priority for placement of children with family and community; five, principles for service delivery; and, six, process rights. Yet, there will be a critical need to make sure that these concepts work on the ground, and that implementation of the legislation is effective in shifting away from the overrepresentation of first nations children in child welfare systems and toward prevention and the reunification of families.

Having said that, I would like to now focus on a number of key recommendations that we believe would strengthen the bill.

We recommend that Bill C-92 include a role for an independent children's advocate or commissioner at the federal level to support the implementation of the concepts and the rights in Bill C-92, and to monitor implementation and assist children, youth and families in navigating the systems that will be impacted by this law.

Second, we understand that there is a review period of five years to evaluate the effectiveness of the bill. We believe this time frame may be too long for the first such review. As such, we believe that the bill should be reviewed after three years and should make sure the special first review covers issues raised by many before this committee and in public comment on the bill, including the addressing of funding; jurisdiction; better outcomes for children and youth; reunification of families; and respect for women and girls, and elimination of discrimination on the basis of gender.

We'd also like to add a reference to the United Nations declaration in the purpose. I urge you to add a specific reference to the United Nations declaration in the purpose section of Bill C-92, as was done in Bill C-91 regarding indigenous languages, so that the United Nations declaration can form and provide necessary context for this work at all levels. We are proposing an amendment to consider a provision (c) to state: to implement the United Nations declaration as a progressive framework for the resolution of human rights issues impacting children, youth and families.

Next we'd like to address the issue of funding. We believe that we need to have statutory funding issues addressed in the bill as well. We're not sure about the mandate of the committee to recommend changes in that regard, but I do emphasize that funding is critically important to reform child welfare and to support first nations child and family services.

Next, in relation to the “stronger ties” rule, we draw your attention to the fact that some of the provisions of the bill may cause confusion with regard to our first nations laws and practices.

The provisions on stronger ties in clause 24 provide that when a conflict between two nations' rules appears to present a conflict over which first nations system applies to the decision for a specific child or family, the test in the bill is that the governing law will be that of the “community” with “stronger ties”. This kind of rule may be valuable, but it needs to be qualified to permit the first nations laws to sort out how conflicts will be handled as well. Our inter-tribal systems have worked this out for generations and the either-or nature of this may undermine some of our laws and practices.

For this reason, I believe there should be a section added to clause 24 which provides that “the rules for resolving conflicts between laws may also be resolved through agreements between Indigenous governing bodies or according to Indigenous laws applicable to children and families”.

I thank you for the opportunity to appear and provide feedback on this important and momentous bill, and I urge you to work with resolve to complete this task as a priority and to see this bill through to completion. It is long overdue and most urgently needed.

Thank you.

8:40 a.m.

Grand Chief Edward John Political Executive Member, First Nations Summit

Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning, committee members.

I'd like to acknowledge the Algonquin people as well, and their traditional homelands.

We're from the same organization in British Columbia, so I won't go into that background. I do want to mention that on submitting this report, the Premier of British Columbia asked, given the significant numbers of children in care, to seek advice on what the province ought to be doing. It's close to a 200-page report with some 86 recommendations. It takes an extensive look at the impacts of laws, policies and practice standards.

I didn't start there. I started in the communities, asking them what they thought and how they felt about how these provincial laws, policies, regulations and practice standards impacted them. This story is really from their perspective. It's the practice side of this impact in our communities. The clerk has this, as well as a summary. There's another document that was tabled with the clerk with our position.

Bill C-92 represents a clear advancement for prevention, early intervention and protection services—in section 1—for indigenous children, youth and families in their respective communities while acknowledging and respecting the diversity of indigenous peoples.

The bill speaks to indigenous youth, but in the operative sections of the bill, the youth are not included. I think it's something that needs to be considered. It may be an oversight.

The national advisory committee is an advisory committee to the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada. The interim report from that committee was submitted to the former minister of Indigenous Services Canada, Jane Philpott, and the AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. I chaired that committee. The recommendation from that committee was that the federal government consider enacting federal legislation to address the staggering challenges faced by first nations people relating to children and families. Minister Philpott concluded that these challenges amounted to humanitarian crises. We all recall that moment.

Indigenous peoples developing their own laws, regulations, policies and practice standards will exercise their responsibilities in a modern context and uphold and act on their inherent rights to support their children and families. Their laws: by them, for them. Clause 18, read together with clauses 2 and 8 provide a necessary and critical foundation for this.

The operative principles of “substantive equality” in subclause 9(3) and “cultural continuity” in subclause 9(2) are essential for indigenous peoples. When combined with the necessary and extensive support from the federal and provincial governments, they will help to address the deeply rooted ravages of over 150 years of deliberate and misguided assimilation of Crown laws and policies. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called it “cultural genocide”.

Bill C-92 together with Bill C-91 on indigenous languages provide a substantive framework to remedy past government policy pillars to “kill the Indian in the child” by removing the child from siblings, family, community, foods, lands, territories and resources; and providing education to Christianize and civilize the child by declaring as inferior indigenous philosophies, teachings, languages and culture.

The proposed legislation has shortcomings and is not exhaustive. For indigenous peoples, there will be both internal and external challenges, obstacles and hurdles for the full and effective realization of this significant aspect of the right to self-determination. Constructive and desperately needed changes for indigenous peoples will take time.

I have three recommendations that I want to deal with.

Clause 15 should be strengthened by ensuring the necessary support and other measures for parents, extended family and community, so that no child is removed for reasons related to poverty or the socio-economic circumstances of the child's family.

The recommendation on financing and funding is critically important. There's only one reference in the preamble. The recommendation is that the underlying substance of this acknowledgement should be moved from the preamble to the operative provisions of the bill.

I agree with the recommendation on amending article 8 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We are hopeful that the three bills, Bill C-262, Bill C-91 and Bill C-92, will be adopted and royal assent will be given before the end of this Parliament's mandate.

Finally, the budget implementation legislation, which contains many significant financial commitments to first nations, Inuit and Métis people needs to be adopted. We cannot have Canada's commitments die on an Order Paper. We've been through that once before.

Thank you.

8:45 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

If we could only control the Senate.... No, that's a joke. There's a second House and we're not sure where that's going. They're in the process of studying the bill as well, as I'm sure you know. We're all anxious to see this bill go through the House and the Senate.

Next, we have the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, with Bobby Narcisse and Julian Falconer.

You can start anytime you're ready.

8:45 a.m.

Bobby Narcisse Director of Social Services, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Good morning, everyone. My name is Bobby Narcisse. I'm with Nishnawbe Aski Nation, NAN, originally from the Aroland First Nation within Treaty 9 and Treaty 5. We too would like to acknowledge the territory of the Algonquin people. We are very happy to be here to do a submission to the standing committee.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation takes this opportunity to share its views on Bill C-92, an act respecting first nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. NAN is supportive of the idea of federal legislation affirming first nations jurisdiction in the area of child and family well-being, but is concerned about certain weaknesses in the current drafting of Bill C-92.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation has a chiefs committee on children, youth and families, and it has deliberated on federal child and family service legislation on multiple occasions over the past nine months. Our chiefs committee members are intimately and painfully familiar with the violent failings of the current child welfare paradigm and with the harms caused by well over a century of federal and provincial interference in the lives and governance of Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities and families. Equally important, the chiefs committee members are intimately and gratefully familiar with the strengths and wisdom of our elders and ancestors and the cultural, intellectual and spiritual richness they and their communities have to draw from and build on.

This submission assesses Bill C-92 against key characteristics for legislation as identified by the chiefs committee on children, youth and families, and endorsed at a chiefs meeting on child welfare on October 2018. Federal indigenous child welfare legislation must facilitate a paradigm shift in child and family services. For too long, these services have failed our children, youth and families.

With this in mind, Nishnawbe Aski Nation advocates for federal legislation that, first, affirms inherent first nations jurisdiction in the area of child and family well-being and affirms that such jurisdiction is exclusive where so asserted by a first nation, regardless of the place of residency of a first nations child. Such affirmation recognizes that first nations are best positioned to make determinations about what is in the best interests of their children.

Second, we advocate legislation that guarantees adequate, sustainable, predictable, equitable funding for first nations to enable the exercise of inherent jurisdiction in the area of child and family well-being. The legislation ensures that the use of words such as “co-development” and “collaboration” are defined and operationalized as meaning “true collaboration”. Such concepts should be used to facilitate fulfillment of, and not replace, the duty to consult and obtain free, prior, informed consent. These concepts should also ensure a complete break in the way in which the “best interests of the child” has been used in relation to first nations children, youth and families.

With respect to jurisdiction, the first stated purpose of Bill C-92 is to affirm the rights and jurisdiction of indigenous peoples in relation to child and family services. This is a good starting point. The current drafting of Bill C-92, however, waters down first nations jurisdiction. The lack of recognition that we may exercise exclusive jurisdiction over our children, together with the retention of an overriding power by Canada and provinces and/or their service providers and judges through invocation of the best interests of the child, mean that Bill C-92 does not fully recognize our people's inherent jurisdiction over child and family well-being.

With respect to funding, Bill C-92 contains no legislative guarantee of funding for our children and families. This is deeply concerning. It is not enough that the statement in the preamble acknowledges the ongoing call for funding for child and family services that is predictable, stable, needs-based and consistent with the principle of substantive equality in order to secure long-term position outcomes for indigenous children, families and communities. This call needs to be met with legislated guarantees of such funding.

The Caring Society case at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has shed light on human rights violations that occur when funding for our children is not legislated.

In 2011, the Auditor General of Canada identified the lack of a legislative base for on-reserve programs and inadequate funding mechanisms as two of four structural impediments that severely limited delivery of public services and hindered involvement in living conditions on our first nations communities.

The deputy minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development Canada at the time testified before the Standing Common on Public Accounts, in 2012, about the Auditor General's report and explained the following:

One of the really important parts of the Auditor General's report is that it shows there are four...missing conditions. The combination of those is what's likely to result in an enduring change. You could pick any one of them, such as legislation without funding, or funding without legislation, and so on.

They would have some results, but they would probably, in our view, be temporary. If you want enduring structural changes, it is the combination of these tools....

We need a paradigm shift. We need enduring change. Legislation must come hand in hand with legislative guarantees of funding. The proposed legislation must have at least some sort of degree of funding guarantee. Ontario's new policing legislation offers a good template for what an effective legislative funding remedy might look like.

With respect to collaboration, since August 2018, NAN has raised several concerns with ISC about proposed indigenous child welfare legislation, including the use of co-development to describe the process. We want to ensure that given the concerns to date, Canada's process of co-development....

This provision regarding collaboration is worrisome. Canada has a constitutional duty to consult first nations when it contemplates actions affecting their rights under section 35, which the regulations under Bill C-92 would do. The duty is also articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which makes it clear that Canada must obtain free, prior and informed consent of first nations.

Also, “the best interests of the child” is a concern with the way it is drafted in the bill. In a statement of principles developed in September 2018 to guide its deliberations regarding federal indigenous child welfare legislation, the chiefs committee stated, “The federal government has utterly failed our children and families. In the name of “best interests of the child”, first the Indian Residential Schools system and then the child welfare system, have ripped our children from their families, communities.... The effects of these actions are ongoing and intergenerational. Canada and its provinces have no credibility asserting a right or ability to act in our children's best interests.”

NAN is encouraged by the thought of federal indigenous child welfare legislation with the purpose of affirming the rights and jurisdiction of indigenous people in relation to child and family services. Bill C-92 should be strengthened to clearly recognize that our inherent jurisdiction in this realm is exclusive, guarantee adequate funding for the exercise of our jurisdiction in this area, avoid ambiguity introduced by the ill-defined use of “meaningful opportunity to collaborate” and discard colonial, paternalistic, damaging notions perpetuated by “the best interests of the child” provisions to ensure a complete break from the past.

We are ready for a new paradigm in first nations child and family services.


8:55 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you.

We are now moving to Jeffry Nilles, as a student and an individual.

Thank you for coming.

8:55 a.m.

Jeffry Nilles Student, As an Individual

Thank you for having me here.

My name is Jeffry Nilles, as you know. I am a former foster care resident.

I was in foster care in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is my story that I'm going to share with you.

I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I'm here to share some of my memories of my early childhood in foster care and afterward.

First, I'll tell you a bit about me. I'm Ojibway. My mother is from Waterhen, Manitoba, a reserve four hours north of Winnipeg. My father is from Luxembourg, Europe. As for me, I am a single father. I have five children. The three youngest live with me. I am 53 and am currently enrolled at Neeginan College and taking a training course to be a building operations technician. My being here is part of my journey in healing and having a better understanding of who I am as an Anishinabe person.

I will begin by telling you that these are my memories, good and bad. I never told anyone about my stay in foster care until last year, when I started participating in a men's healing group at the aboriginal centre in Winnipeg. I started opening up and sharing my past in my men's group, which led me here to Ottawa.

I will begin by telling you about my first memories of growing up, before I was in foster care. I will start by telling you about my first puppy, Skippy. I remember getting him from my mishoomis, my grandpa, in the country. My earliest memories of my grandpa are about bedtime. He would tell stories about Nanabush for me and my sisters. I still remember him fiddling in the evening, with me and my other cousins trying to jig, and everyone laughing. I also remember getting my first stitches from falling off my bike. Sadly, I also remember my parents drinking and fighting. One day, my teacher came to our house, and we were taken away. I saw my sisters crying for my mom. I was six years old that year.

I've spent over 45 years trying to forget my stay in foster care. It still makes me upset to remember my time there.

These are some of my memories. I will share them with you. One of my first memories is being yelled at by a lady. I think it was because I wouldn't stop crying. I remember wanting my mom. I was put in a corner and told to get on my knees and face the wall. I remember being in that corner until I stopped crying. There were other times when I was put in the corner. I remember that one mealtime I needed to go to the washroom, and I said it in my language. I was put in the corner, and I started to pee myself. I remember her grabbing me and taking me to the washroom, taking my clothes off and screaming at me, calling me a “dirty Indian”. I didn't understand what “Indian” was.

On another occasion, the lady made raisin biscuits. They were cooling on the top of the stove. I don't know why, but I picked a couple of raisins out. Later that day, the lady was screaming again about who took the raisins. Again I was put in a corner and was told that all Indians know is how to steal. I didn't know that what I did was wrong. There was another occasion when I was riding my bike and got lost. I remember the police taking me back to the lady's place that night. I remember her screaming and saying, “I want that Indian out of my house” and saying to take me back where I belonged. I was reminded of this statement more than once.

I don't recall how long I was in care. When I was reunited with my family, my parents moved us to B.C. in 1972. This I know because I still have the grade 2 class pictures from school. My mother started teaching me and my two younger sisters how to speak Ojibway again because we couldn't remember anything that she was saying to us. My sisters picked up what my mom was saying really fast, but not me. I always had an excuse for not learning, saying that it was too hard. I think I just didn't want to learn.

We moved back to Winnipeg in 1974, and that is where I heard “dirty Indian” again. I was in school. I was nine at the time when a bigger kid in my class pulled out my chair when I was about to sit down. I jumped up and everyone laughed. I remember him saying, “Look at the dirty Indian.” The next thing I knew, I was in my first fist fight. I don't know why I was so angry; I could just feel everyone staring at me. I asked my mom later that day what “Indian” meant. She explained to me that we were the first people of this country, and she said to be proud of who we are. I didn't understand this. I didn't feel proud.

We moved two more times before my father bought a house on Alexander Street in the summer of 1976. We went to visit my mom's dad on the reserve. I remember being teased by my cousins because I couldn't speak with them or understand what anyone was saying.

I didn't like this place; couldn't wait to go home. The last time I was on my mom's reserve, we buried my mom's brother in 1978. I hated everything on the reserve; the food, the water, the outhouses. I just hated the way everyone lived. The houses had broken windows. To me, everyone was drinking all the time. I don't know why, but this was the last time I ever came there.

In 1980, my parents divorced. My younger brother and I stayed with my dad, and my sisters left with my mom. The following year, I dropped out of high school and started working. I was told if I worked hard and paid my bills on time that life would be great. Looking back at the last 30 years of my life, I realize I turned my back on my family and relatives on many occasions. I didn't go to my family's weddings or events that were being held on the reserve when invited. It seems I always had an excuse not to go.

This was more evident when my mom died in 2006. Being selfish, I had my mom buried in Winnipeg instead of being buried on the reserve so I wouldn't have to go out there. This was my behaviour; always thinking about myself. I started having troubles in my own relationship. After 17 years with my partner, we separated in 2016, and my son came to live with me. The following year, my oldest daughter came to live with me too. She graduated that year with honours. She received a full scholarship from the Tallman Foundation, a proud daddy moment.

I developed a hernia at work and was let go just before Christmas of 2017. I would have to have surgery in the new year, and I got a knock on the door just before New Year's. It was child and family services asking if I could take my twin girls. I didn't hesitate; I invited everyone in. I was told the mother could not take care of them. This was January 8 of last year. I was so happy to have all my children with me and not with some stranger.

I was told I would be primary caregiver to my twin girls and that CFS would visit me every two weeks to see how I was doing. I struggled the first month, taking them to school by transit. It took two buses to get there. I didn't want to change schools because it was their last year there.

Coming home one day after dropping my girls off at school, I decided to walk home. As I was walking, I came upon the old train station on Main. I could see it was some kind of educational centre for aboriginals. I went inside and found a men's group on the directory and introduced myself to the elders. I told them a little about me and was told they had a sharing circle and a men's parental program going on, where at the end they would be going to a retreat for a sweat.

I was curious, so I signed up and starting coming to meetings of both groups. This was the first time I was introduced to my culture. I was intrigued by the stories the group shared. There were 12 strangers from their early twenties to their late fifties. Over the next 10 weeks, I learned the seven teachings regarding Mother Earth. I was also taught how to smudge and pray, as well as ask for forgiveness for myself and others.

I would go home after meetings thinking about my past, but mostly I was thinking of my mom and how she would be so proud of me. I shared some of my stories with my children. I was asked by my youngest if I knew my language. This is the first time I believe I cried in front of my children in trying to explain why I don't know my language, the feelings of guilt and my being ashamed of who I became. I loved it when my children told me it's never too late to learn, but deep down I knew what I did.

Then came the day of the sweat. I was very excited and nervous at the same time. The sweat took place in Beausejour, Manitoba. It was beautiful. I was told to strip down to my shorts and bring a towel with me. I crawled in on my hands and knees. It was a humbling experience sitting in the dark; the elder throwing water on the grandfathers, the steam sizzling, the beat of the drum was powerful, my heart beating and the singing. It was an awesome feeling.

We went around giving thanks to Mother Earth, and at the same time asking the creator to heal our sick, our addictions and praying for forgiveness.

When it was my turn to share, all I could think of was my mom and how I had turned my back on my culture. I was overcome by guilt. I admitted that I was angry—all the time. I had made racist comments to my mom, my family and my culture. I was ashamed of being Indian, and I didn't understand why I felt this way. I wanted to know who I was.

The elders spoke of letting go of my past, forgiving myself and sharing my stories about healing. When the sweat was over, I felt a sense of pride in understanding a little bit about our culture, our beliefs and our laughter. I found hope and a second chance at being a better father to my children. I'm not so serious all the time. I laugh, I cry, but most of all, I've learned to love myself again. I am currently enrolled in a training program at Neeginan College. I am involved in educating myself and my children about our culture. I have opened my eyes and my heart to this new way of living. I smudge every morning with my children. My twin girls' favourite saying is “sharing is caring”.

This is part of my story. Meegwetch. Thank you for having me here, and thank you to everyone who was involved in bringing me here, especially the aboriginal centre in Winnipeg.

If you have any questions, I will graciously answer them. Thank you very much.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Thank you, Mr. Nilles. Your story is very powerful and appreciated. You're an individual who went through a horrific story. We still have, even today, 11,000 children in care in Manitoba alone, a circumstance that we must address. This committee is empowered to hopefully take a positive role in addressing some of these challenges going forward. Thank you so much for coming.

We will now open the process to questions from MPs. I see that we have just under 20 minutes.

Members, do we want to stay with the seven-minute blocks? Yes? Okay.

We will begin our questions with MP Yves Robillard.

9:10 a.m.


Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you for your testimony.

My first question is for Ms. Casimer and Grand Chief John.

In the initial stages of the bill, you mentioned in a news release how important are the smooth transition and implementation of the proposed legislation.

How do you see this transition now? Could you elaborate on the best way forward for successful implementation?

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Chief John.

9:10 a.m.

Political Executive Member, First Nations Summit

Grand Chief Edward John

That's a very good question. It is one that will be in the forefront of all of our people's minds, about the transitions that are required. In British Columbia, we have 23 delegated agencies and 204 first nations, which is roughly one-third of all first nations in the country. We have 84 first nations that do not have a relationship with a delegated agency and are provided services by the province's ministry of children and families. The others are members of the 23 delegated agencies.

The transition will now be from the Province of British Columbia and from the delegated agencies to the communities and how that will work. That will take time and a lot of planning. Many of these delegated agencies that I'm speaking about are set up by first nations themselves. They may choose, if they wish, to continue the agencies as they are, but under their own authority.

There are very important practical problems. For me, the biggest issue, of course, is whether it's a delegated agency, a first nations agency or the provincial government under this bill. I expect that those three models will continue. The very big issue for me is the issue of financing for the services provided. That's where we've had some very serious problems across the board, with both the federal government and the provincial government. In that regard, I think the human rights tribunal has been a dispute mechanism that has been very helpful in sorting out the very difficult challenges in financial issues.

I do want to acknowledge Jane Philpott. When she was the minister responsible in this area, she was very responsive to the questions and the issues that were raised...and her successor, of course, Minister O'Regan.

9:10 a.m.


Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Ms. Casimer, when this bill was introduced, you said that it was probably one of the most significant pieces of legislation for indigenous peoples in a generation, because it will improve the situation of indigenous children and youth by focusing on strengthening families and keeping families together instead of intervening and separating them. We are coming to the end of the legislative process on this bill. Do you think we have taken the right direction by putting the best interests of the children first?

9:15 a.m.

Political Executive Member, First Nations Summit

Cheryl Casimer

I truly believe that this piece of legislation is the most important piece of work that we will do as first nations people in this country, but it is not just first nations people. I think this needs to be a collective front by both non-indigenous and indigenous peoples, in order to be able to see any success in terms of reunification and maintaining strong ties between our children and youth and their communities.

In our situation in British Columbia—and that is all I can speak to—I believe it's really important that we have a relationship with the province that kind of puts us in a unique situation. We are currently sitting at a table with a tripartite process between Canada, British Columbia and the First Nations Leadership Council. Through this process, we've been able to identify priorities, identify what's going to work in terms of moving forward and make some substantive change in our communities.

I believe that, through that relationship, we are at a bit of an advantage in terms of being able to work towards implementing the legislation once it receives royal assent.

I believe that the fact that the legislation recognizes our inherent right in our jurisdiction over child welfare issues gives us the ability to put into place protective measures, so that we're not coming from a protection focus; rather, we will be able to do it with a prevention focus.

My agency in my nation started based on that foundation of providing preventative services, so that we could address an issue as soon as it was identified and we could provide family supports and provide them with the tools necessary to keep families together, as opposed to coming to a point where children had to be removed.

This legislation will provide us with those tools to do it on a broader scale. I believe that, through that, we will keep our kids safe.

9:15 a.m.


Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Now we're moving to MP Cathy McLeod.

9:15 a.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you to all the witnesses. We've heard very compelling testimony.

As you are aware, this bill is supported on all sides of the House. It's just a matter of trying to make sure it is as good as it can be. I don't think anyone believes it is a perfect bill. I think we're trying to do our best to make it better than it is.

I'm going to start with Grand Chief John. The piece I've struggled with is there was talk about the UN declaration and embedding Mr. Saganash's Bill C-262 into the legislation. That would compel free, prior and informed consent from all the impacted first nations, indigenous peoples.

We're going to hear testimony later from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and others who are not supportive of this bill. Clearly, they are not giving free, prior and informed consent. I would really appreciate hearing how you align those two concepts. You're asking us to pass a bill. We know significant communities in this country—according to the article in the UN declaration and free, prior and informed consent—would be telling us not to do it.

9:15 a.m.

Political Executive Member, First Nations Summit

Grand Chief Edward John

Thank you.

As you know, I was in Geneva when the UN declaration was being negotiated. I was there for many years. I understand the context in which it was developed and the reasons the provisions are the way they are. There are 46 articles in the declaration. There are 23 preambular paragraphs all designed to do one thing at the end of the day: to ensure that the rights are the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples. That's in article 43.

The issue of free, prior and informed consent is a thread woven through the entire declaration. It's not simply built into one provision but many different provisions. I want to be clear that this provision of free, prior and informed consent is not a new right. It's already in existence in other international instruments that the concept of free, prior and informed consent is an important customary international legal principle.

We see it in Canada within the context of where the courts have been on consultation and accommodation. In the Haida case, even consent in serious and significant cases, I can't think of anything where that principle will not apply.

Free, prior and informed consent of the nation, if they want to establish their own laws, that's their business. That's what I said in my opening remarks. It is their legislation for them by them. I think that's the truest form of the exercise of free, prior and informed consent.

9:20 a.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I'll just make one further comment. Then I want to give my colleague Ms. Philpott an opportunity to ask questions.

I think article 19 does talk about laws of general application. I would see this as a law of general application. I still struggle. Maybe we can have a longer conversation over a coffee someday because I truly struggle with how we align them.

I would like to share my time with Ms. Philpott.

9:20 a.m.


Jane Philpott Independent Markham—Stouffville, ON

Thank you so much, MP McLeod, for giving me an opportunity to ask a question.

I want to greet the colleagues who have come today and congratulate you on all of the work you have done on this. I thank the committee for their excellent work on what I think is possibly the most important bill the government is working on, because it will make a difference in the lives of children.

I agree with MP McLeod that the bill is not perfect. One of my questions is particularly in terms of the financing piece on this, which I think is probably one of the strongest critiques. Bobby, I think you raised some really excellent points.

The way I've argued that it would be ideal if this bill had financing is, number one, following Jordan's principle, which requires that children not be discriminated against on the basis of jurisdiction. I think there are ways to get funding for child welfare through the application of Jordan's principle, but it's not the ideal methodology. The second are the commitments that the government made related to the Human Rights Tribunal, obliging the government to pay the actual costs preventing the removal of children. Then, of course, I think there's the very pragmatic argument of the fact that in the end, financing and providing statutory funding for child and family services will save society in both financial and other measures in the future. There's no question that statutory funding is the ultimate goal.

I guess my question is, what do we do in the next seven weeks? What are your recommendations? In terms of getting this bill passed, I have proposed an amendment suggesting that the review should not be not at five years but at three years. I have also proposed that the review should specifically include an analysis as to whether the funding has been adequate, which sets obligations both on governments and agencies to ensure that these services have been appropriately funded, and hopefully will lead us in the direction of the opportunity in three years from now to move towards statutory funding.

Do you have other, better suggestions than that? I suspect that you do in terms of how we can deal with this. Some have suggested that the bill should not pass if the funding isn't there. I think that the bill should be passed, but how can we strengthen it so that we move toward a world in the very near future where statutory funding is a reality?

9:20 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

There's only 45 seconds.

Please direct your question, and it has to be a very, very short response.

Who are you asking?

9:20 a.m.


Jane Philpott Independent Markham—Stouffville, ON

Mr. Falconer.

9:20 a.m.

Julian Falconer Legal Advisor, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Thank you, member Philpott.

I want to empathize and repeat my respect for the contribution you've made as minister.

Very quickly, because of the lack of time, the first answer to when something is weak, deficient or broken is to fix it. The legislation is weak, deficient and broken when it comes to the funding issue. Simply glossing it—and I'm not saying you are—as a technique and let's move on with it is not an answer. This is precisely an example of a poor foundation leading to a stream of other problems. The answer is to provide for legislated funding.

In my view, there is no alternative to fixing something that's completely broken other than the repair.

Secondly, I want to—

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Sorry, we've gone over the allotted time.

9:25 a.m.

Legal Advisor, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Julian Falconer

That's fine.

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Maybe MP Rachel Blaney will follow up.

Questioning goes to her for the next approximately five minutes.