Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, about motion No. 296 from the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, which reads as follows:
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.
The Bloc Québécois supports the motion in principle. However, it is important to remember that Quebec and some provinces have already put in place legislation and assistance procedures. The federal government must therefore do its part by helping to fund services for first nations children. We must understand that the principle of this motion is based on shared jurisdiction between the provinces and the federal government.
Jordan's principle is the name given to the child first principle, which puts the interest of the child before constitutional conflicts when it comes to access to services. The Canadian Constitution does not specify which level of government is responsible for providing services to first nations children.
There are multiple jurisdictional disputes involving child protection. Who has the constitutional, fiscal and moral responsibility for first nations children? The answer to that question has repercussions on the availability of programs and services for aboriginal families and children.
It is important to mention that the average Canadian gets almost two and a half times more services from federal, provincial and municipal governments than first nations citizens, according to the review by the McDonald-Ladd commission in 2000.
According to a number of stakeholders, the best way to manage jurisdictional conflicts is to prevent them. Jordan's principle is more of a provisional measure, while waiting for the federal and provincial governments to reach an agreement on jurisdictions. If Quebec were a country, this problem would have been resolved a long time ago.
As far as jurisdictions are concerned and who is responsible, I will try to provide a brief overview of the jurisdiction problem that Motion M-296 addresses. The motion seeks not to resolve the problem, but to place first nations children and families on an equal footing with Canadian children and families when it comes to receiving social and health services.
As stated in the report of the Joint National Policy Review on First Nations Child and Family Services, the different levels of government are passing the buck with respect to jurisdiction.
The federal government has said that the provinces are responsible for providing child services to first nations, in accordance with section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Participation by the federal government in the provision of programs and services, in its view, is quite simply discretionary.
I will read section 92:
92. In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,
13. Property and Civil Rights in the Province.
16. Generally all Matters of a merely local or private Nature in the Province.
As for the provinces, they believe that the federal government is responsible for native people and reserves, pursuant to section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867:
91. —the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say,
24. Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.
That is the text the Government of Canada used.
The provincial and territorial governments are worried that the federal government is offloading its responsibilities with respect to aboriginal peoples onto them and they argue that “the federal government has the constitutional, historical, and fiduciary responsibility arising from the treaties with aboriginals who live on and off reserves”.
According to a report published in 2005 by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, the first nations have adopted the same position as the provinces.The first nations therefore support what the provinces and territories are saying.
The first nations are the only peoples to suffer from the lack of responsibility and accountability of the federal government and are asking that it maintain “its tutelage and its fiduciary duties towards the first nations, including its children, families and community services”. Moreover:
The federal government funds first nations child and family support agencies pursuant to Directive 20-1—hence a matter of administration—and not, in its view, because of its fiduciary responsibility. The federal government refuses to change its position and has stated that the delivery of programs and services to first nations is discretionary.
That is always the big problem: the federal government does not want to recognize that it has responsibility for the services provided for first nations.
I would like to give some background on Directive 20-1. The current funding formula was developed in 1989 in an effort to standardize funding levels for first nations child and family service agencies in Canada. The directive was issued and requires that agencies operate under provincial legislation when it comes to child protection, but does not include any funding to help agencies adjust. It includes a guiding principle whereby services must be comparable to those provided for children living in similar circumstances off-reserve, but it does not contain any mechanism to ensure that this can happen. Once again, the federal government issued the directive, but did not provide any money to go along with it.
In Quebec, the Youth Protection Act contains provisions that apply specifically to aboriginal youth. In fact, Quebec has always been in the forefront in this area. The fifth paragraph of section 2.4 stipulates that the socio-cultural characteristics of the community in which the young person lives must be taken into consideration:
5) of opting for measures, in respect of the child and the child's parents, which allow action to be taken diligently to ensure the child's protection, considering that a child's perception of time differs from that of adults, and which take into consideration the following factors:
a) the proximity of the chosen resource;
b) the characteristics of cultural communities;
c) the characteristics of native communities.
Quebec's Youth Protection Act therefore ensures protection for aboriginal communities. Furthermore, agreements between the Government of Quebec and aboriginal communities can be reached in order to promote the protection of young people in those communities, by adapting the legislation to their reality.
Of course, we feel it is important to consult first nations. The Bloc Québécois believes that the future does not lie in pointless opposition, but rather in constructive partnerships that respect the legitimate interests of all parties. On the federal scene, the Bloc Québécois makes aboriginal issues one of its priorities. With regard to future relations between the government and aboriginal peoples, we recommend a more comprehensive approach, one that recognizes the aspirations of aboriginal peoples and favours negotiating agreements nation to nation. The Bloc Québécois believes that Quebec is a nation, and that we must negotiate, nation to nation, with aboriginal peoples.
In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples submitted a comprehensive report that proposed far-reaching changes over a period of 20 years leading to self-government for aboriginal peoples by respecting their customs, cultures, languages and ancestral institutions.
Our party, the Bloc Québécois, believes that in order to develop harmonious relations with Quebec's aboriginal peoples, we must first listen to them and understand them by taking an interest in their reality, their differences and the challenges they face. The Bloc Québécois maintains an ongoing dialogue with the first nations. Our party is suggesting that the government should follow our lead when considering future bills. It has not done so with Kelowna, Bill C-44 and all the others.
In closing, the main issue in this debate is determining who will assume the cost of protecting children. Quebec's Youth Protection Act already contains provisions whereby first nations communities can play an active role in youth protection. Motion No. 296 allows for the protection of children, based on the child first principle, while waiting for the federal and provincial governments to reach an official agreement on various terms and conditions for services, and the payment of services, provided to children in first nations communities.
We support the principle behind the motion. However, we must remember that Quebec and some provinces already have legislation and assistance procedures in place; the federal government must assume its share of the responsibility by providing some of the funding for services provided to first nations children.