That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child first principle, based on Jordan's Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House on Motion No. 296, which calls on the government to immediately adopt a child first principle based on Jordan's principle.
The motion is truly about ending discrimination against first nations children. I appreciate the fact that when we last had the debate in the House all parties spoke favourably about the motion. I am hopeful that when we have finished with the debate all parties will again speak in favour. Actually, because it is a private member's motion, I am hopeful that each member in the House will support the motion and that we can then call on the government to actually move forward to implement some meaningful action.
I want to acknowledge a number of people who have worked so hard on bringing Jordan's principle to the forefront for all Canadians. I specifically want to acknowledge Jordan and his family. Jordan's family has been unbelievably courageous in having Jordan's principle come forward and stand for all first nations children in the country.
I also want to acknowledge the good work done by Norway House Cree Nation and the Kinosao Sipi Minisowin Agency, which works specifically with first nations children with special needs.
I want to acknowledge the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. I also want to acknowledge Amnesty International.
There are many other organizations as well. I believe that well over 400 organizations have now signed on in support of Jordan's principle. There are many people who are working on behalf of Jordan's principle and on behalf of first nations children across the country.
I want to talk a little about Jordan's story because I think it is an important story and I think it also puts a face to the realities of what we are talking about.
Jordan was born in 1999 with a complex set of genetic disorders. Because of a lack of services on reserve, Jordan's family had to make the very difficult decision of surrendering Jordan to provincial care in order to get the medical care he needed.
Jordan spent the first two years of his life in hospital. Once he was stabilized, he could have gone into a specialized foster home. For the next two years, the federal and provincial governments argued over who should pay for Jordan's foster home costs. Sadly, at the end of those two years, Jordan passed away. This little boy, this very special little boy, spent his entire life in a hospital setting, never knowing what many of us, each and every one of us, take for granted at some point our lives: to live in a family home, to be cared for by parents, to have siblings and to do all the kinds of things that we think are just the normal course of events.
It is sad to say that this came down to arguments about who should pay. In case anybody thinks this is an isolated case, let me note that there are numerous cases across the country where first nations children are actively being discriminated against because neither the federal nor the provincial governments, and there is a variety of provincial governments, put children first
Before I talk about a couple of those cases, I want to point out the fact that Jordan has been nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize of 2007. He has been nominated because of the recognition of the fact that Jordan has become a symbol for those children who have no other voice.
In the nomination papers, Cindy Blackstock said that a “research report indicates that jurisdictional disputes involving the costs of caring for First Nations children are very prevalent” with 393 of these disputes occurring in 12 of the 105 first nations child and family service agencies sampled in the study during 2004-05 alone. The report states:
The vast majority of those disputes were between two federal government departments or between the federal government and the provincial-territorial government.
She goes on to say, which is very poignant, “Jordan could not talk and yet people around the world hear his message. Jordan could not breathe on his own and yet he has given the breath of life to other children. Jordan could not walk but he has taken steps that the government are just now learning to follow”. She says, “He is a child who really did change the world by ensuring the rights of children come before the conveniences of government; all this, and he was only five years old”.
I am hopeful that on December 16 we will hear that Jordan actually was the successful International Children's Peace Prize.
We have had a number of other cases, and I want to mention a couple of them.
Scott Fraser, the NDP MLA for Alberni—Qualicum, raised the issue of Alica-Anne from Ahousaht, who was born deaf and has a cochlea implant. She is expected to lose her sight within the next few years. She needed some particular intervention so she could learn to speak and hear before she went blind.
The provincial government indicated that it was prepared to fund this case but, in the larger issue, there is no question that it remains a challenge. It is an active part of our ongoing discussion with INAC. It would deal with this one case and yet we know there are cases after cases across this country where children are simply not put first.
A news release in June 2006, and I know the Parliamentary Secretary for Health is well aware of this case, was about a little boy named MacKenzie Olsen who needed some very expensive drugs and was part of a drug trial. When the drug trial ended, so did his medication. The Calgary Health Region had agreed in 2005 to cover 40% of the treatments. However, in June 2006 no one came forward to pick up the rest of the tab. In this case, the drug could only be administered in hospital. The company said, “It is our understanding that there is no distinction in the Canada Health Act between first nations and non-first nations patients that would impact the purchase by a hospital of a therapy to be administered in that hospital. Contrary to the recent media reports, the first nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada does not pay for hospital administered drugs. Hospitals pay for them directly”.
The sticking point in this piece is that because MacKenzie returned home in between hospital treatments to the reserve, the provincial government did not want to pay through the hospital system for this child's drugs. In 2006, a year after we had originally raised this issue with the then Liberal minister of health, this little boy still did not have his drugs.
In the newspapers this week, on October 29, we have another case where a grandmother in Manitoba is being asked to surrender her grandson to the care of Child and Family Services just simply so he can go to school. It is a jurisdictional dispute that is simply not putting first nations children first.
A number of other provinces have identified the fact that there are some discrepancies in how first nations children are funded.
We currently have a case where the Assembly of First Nations has filed a Canadian human rights complaint about the lack of funding for first nations children and welfare. The Assembly of First Nations statistics show that there are more than 27,000 first nations children in state care.
The recent 2006-07 annual report of the Alberta auditor general notes:
However, funding provided by INAC may not be sufficient to allow Agencies to provide comparable services to those available to other Alberta children.
Aboriginal children make up 55% of Alberta’s children in protection, yet make up only about 15% of all Alberta’s children. First Nations are eager to attain sufficient resources to provide equal and comparable services as those available to other Alberta children.
In that case, we have a provincial government saying that the federal government clearly is not stepping up to the plate in terms of its responsibilities for first nations children.
In case we also think that there is only isolated support and that it is coming only from first nations communities or the people who are primarily involved in caring for these children, we have a quote from the Canadian Paediatric Society. They have been advocating for more than a year:
--for the federal and provincial/ territorial governments to adopt Jordan's Principle, a child-first principle to resolving jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children....
The Canadian Medical Association Journal states in an article:
--if the provincial, territorial and federal governments ignore Jordan's Principle and entangle themselves in financial or jurisdictional battles first, then governments deserve to be sued, in the most winnable test case that First Nations' advocates can manage.
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada states:
The provincial and federal governments' jurisdictional debate could be characterized as a shirking of responsibilities that amounts to inequitable treatment of First Nations and is therefore in violation of section 15 of the Charter.
As well, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has passed a resolution. I will not read the whole resolution. It states:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, That the AMC...support AFN/FNCCS Human Rights complaint through a lobbying and negotiation strategy to address the chronic underfunding causing discriminatory treatment of First Nation children by the federal government.
I think it is fairly clear that what we have is a case where first nations children simply do not have the rights that other children living off reserve have. I think each and every one of us would fully expect that children who require particular care, who have special needs and who need access to education would have access to the things that children off reserve simply take for granted.
Unfortunately, we have also been cited on the international scene. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child said that overall Canada is at number six, but when we look at aboriginal children in Canada and their socio-economic status we actually drop to number 78. We rank between Lebanon and Kazakhstan.
That is a shame. That, I would say, is verging on criminal. It is verging on criminal that we have children in this country who are living in such dire straits that a United Nations convention cites Canada's very poor track record. I think that if most Canadians were aware of this they would be urging the federal government to put children first.
I think the words of the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine say it far better than any of us could say it. He said:
The motion asks a simpl[e] question: Do Canadians accept the fact that their health system treats certain children differently because of the race or community they belong to? And further, do Canadians accept that this double standard can result in death or disability?
This practice should not be allowed to exist or be accepted as a normal business practice. We must stand together to protect and nurture the health and well-being of all children across Canada.
In conclusion, with respect to Jordan and his family and all of the organizations and the people who are working so tirelessly on behalf of Jordan's principle, I would ask members of the House to unanimously support the motion.
If the motion should pass, I would call upon the Conservative government to use its huge surplus to put children first, to put first nations children on reserve first, so that in a year's time we can stand up in the House, celebrate the successes and talk about the fact that Canada has a proud record of saying that children come first.
I urge members to support Jordan's principle.