Evidence of meeting #6 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was pandemic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk
Tom Wong  Chief Medical Officer and Director General, Office of Population and Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services
Daniel Watson  Deputy Minister, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services
Valerie Gideon  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services
Jeff Moore  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction Sector, Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry, Marcus. There are too many interventions going on, so I'm losing track of the time and everything else, plus I had to evaluate the point of order times too.

Mr. Powlowski, please go ahead.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

No problem. You're doing great, Bob. I see why you were the announcer for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for so many years. You have that melodic voice.

Okay, I'm going to go legal on you really quickly. I want to cite something from the Indian Act, from subsection 81(1):

The council of a band may make by-laws not inconsistent with this Act or with any regulation made by the Governor in Council or the Minister, for any or all of the following purposes, namely,

(a) to provide for the health of residents on the reserve and to prevent the spreading of contagious and infectious diseases;

(b) the regulation of traffic;

(c) the observance of law and order;

Totally in keeping with this, I know a number of chiefs have tried to take measures to protect the public health, for example by preventing people from coming and going on and off the reserve, to try to impose a curfew, but some of them—and this has been brought to my attention by a local chief—are having trouble enforcing their bylaws. Certain members of the community are unwilling to do so. They've asked for the help of the police force.

I wonder if one of the deputy ministers could clarify, for the sake of these chiefs, whom they can go to for assistance in enforcing the bylaws they're entitled to make under the Indian Act.

May 1st, 2020 / 4:05 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

That's a very good question. I can try to answer. It is an issue that we're seeing on a daily basis.

Those chiefs have the right and the authority to pass bylaws to protect their populations. They're the ones who make decisions. For example, in the case of emergencies in general, they decide if and when evacuation is needed and so on. They have those authorities.

They are raising this issue of security and how to enforce it. They use, of course, the first nations force when they do actually have first nations police. When they don't, they can use private security. They can use other means. They have also been working with the RCMP.

This is where we are now. We're working with them. They can go to our regional office. On this, the answer is quite clear. They know who we are. They know where we are. They can talk to us. We are looking with them for solutions to that.

We're looking at how we can fund and how we can support those measures, and in general the security measures they're trying to put in place to protect their own populations. I must say that they have been quite successful, as you know. I think that one of the reasons we have low numbers at this stage is also that the first nations took action by themselves and are taking on the authorities they have. It is a growing niche that we're looking at, with them, on how we can respond to this in a coherent way and also an efficient way.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marcus Powlowski Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

My second question is on whether there is any further development on the issue of evacuation for many of the more northern fly-in communities in northern Ontario. For example, Kashechewan seems to get fairly regularly evacuated because of floods.

There's been some speculation as to where these communities would go now, given the concern about COVID-19, with a lot of those communities not wanting to go to a place like Thunder Bay because of the risk of coming to a place [Technical difficulty—Editor].

4:05 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

Yes, it is a constant discussion, of course. It's not our purpose or practice to change the needs for those evacuations. When those evacuations are needed, they will happen. We're working with provinces, as we always have—for example, with the Province of Ontario—through emergency departments, and we are trying to make sure that we have the partners we need for the evacuations and that we also have extra measures that are put in place if an evacuation is needed to ensure the safety of the population.

The population is worried and concerned, as you mentioned, about going into those communities and maybe contracting the virus. It is something that we are fully aware of and are working very diligently on with the first nation leadership as well as the provinces.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you very much. That's time.

Ms. Bérubé, you have five minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Go ahead.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

I'd like to know whether the federal government has deployed more health professionals to remote indigenous communities to fight the pandemic. How many nurses or doctors have been deployed to my riding, Abititi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou?

4:10 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

I'll defer to Ms. Gideon for the answer. I don't know if she knows the exact answer for your riding specifically, but she can give you more details on the efforts that have been made to increase capacity in professional services.

4:10 p.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services

Valerie Gideon

We've implemented emergency contracts that can be used to provide additional nursing staff. These contracts also apply to Quebec. We've also asked for volunteers from [inaudible]. They include volunteers who can also work in the Quebec region. We haven't had to use those resources yet.

We hold conversations with the communities on a regular basis. In fact, there was a call today between our regional office and our partners about continuing to offer support as needed. Everything is in place to help if required. The communities, even the first isolated communities to report cases in Quebec, have been able to find additional resources through their own networks.

As you know, for first nations in Quebec, especially in Nunavik, all resources are transferred through the agreement. First nations have been managing the delivery of their primary and public health services themselves for decades, so they're very well equipped.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you.

Earlier, Minister Miller mentioned a budget of $15 million to help indigenous people living off reserve, but that's not enough. It's peanuts, according to Tanya Sirois, executive director of the Regroupement des centres d'amitié autochtones du Québec. I agree with her. Are you going to increase that budget?

Édith Cloutier, executive director of the Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre, says the problem isn't that the federal government is giving too much to the communities, it's that it's not giving enough to urban centres. I'd like to know what you're going to do about that. You also need to avoid causing friction among the organizations.

What are you planning to do for these indigenous communities and friendship centres?

4:10 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Indigenous Services

Jean-François Tremblay

Regarding the organizations submitting more requests, we're still reviewing those requests. Some, if not all, of them are eligible for other federal programs. For instance, there are programs designed to help women who are being abused, by providing funding to shelters. Those programs can also serve indigenous people living off reserve. They're not excluded from those programs. The same goes for the food programs. They're open to anyone living in urban centres, especially vulnerable groups, including indigenous people.

We continue to work with the other departments, as well as the provinces, territories and municipalities, which are financial partners, especially in these kinds of cases, since these things are happening in the cities and provinces. It's vital for all levels of government to take a seat at the table and contribute.

We've contributed, but the minister said it wasn't enough. We're trying to maximize the use of all federal programs, and of course, we're always working on figuring out whether we could be doing more to address needs.

That being said, it doesn't matter whether a community is on or off reserve. You're right to say that sometimes, that can pit organizations against one another, and that shouldn't happen. We want to make sure there's help and services for all and that all the partners that should be at the table are at the table.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you for your intervention.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Madame Bérubé, I'm sorry to say that we're out of time.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you for your intervention.

Just before I adjourn the meeting, there are a couple of bits of business to take care of.

We would like to have suggestions for witnesses sent to the clerk. The meeting will be held on Friday, May 8, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., as this one was.

Our technical group has advised us that today we need to be off this particular time frame at 4:15, which is upon us now.

With that, I would like to say thank you all. This meeting....

Mr. Zimmer.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, just to speak to the time, some of us have tight schedules all day. Because of a technicality, we just don't have the flexibility to stay on two meetings at the same time. I appreciate that there are technical issues. When the time frame is sent out, it should be understood that that is what it's going to be and that the end is going to be a crisp ending as promised. To have it extended is just unacceptable.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry for that, Mr. Zimmer. There's a brave new world going on here. We're all trying to resolve a lot of issues.

I take your point. We'll try to begin as quickly as possible and end with a proper two-hour schedule. We were really flying by the seat of our pants today. We should be much better the next time. That said, I do appreciate your comment. I hope we can start and run the next meeting efficiently as scheduled. I understand your concern. Thanks very much.

With that, this meeting is adjourned.