Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to this very important motion. I will be splitting my time.
I want to acknowledge the good work that has been done by the member for Manicouagan and the member for Edmonton—Strathcona. I particularly want to thank Shannen Koostachin's family for allowing their daughter's name to stand in this place and honour the work that Shannen did in her very short life.
There are a couple of other people I want to recognize specifically as well, because I will also speak about Jordan's principle. I want to acknowledge the family of Jordan River Anderson and the Norway House Cree Nation.
Back in 2007 I had the honour to stand in the House and move Motion No. M-296:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child-first principle, based on Jordan's principles, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of first nations children.
I must point out to the House, because many of the members here were not in the House in 2007, that the motion passed unanimously in this House of Commons. All parties supported that motion. What was said in that motion essentially was that we would put children first.
While I acknowledge the member for Manicouagan for moving the motion, here we today debating a motion that still talks about the fact that first nations children have substandard education in this country. I want to refer to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 14(2) reads:
Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
Nonetheless, many here today have spoken very ably about the fact that first nations children in this country are often in facilities that are so substandard that we cannot even begin to list all of the deficiencies, whether doors that do not close; or children having to wear jackets, mitts and coats in the middle of the winter because there is insufficient heat; or children who do not have text books. The list is appalling.
What happens in some of these communities is a repetition of the residential schools all over again, because those children, in order to get an adequate education, must leave their communities and go somewhere else. The elders are saying that its feels like the residential schools, because once again their children are being removed from their communities, even if voluntarily, to get their education.
Surely in 2012, with all of the technology and resources we have available in this country, we should be able to provide those children with an equitable education that is culturally relevant, that respects their languages and traditions. Here we are in 2012, once again having to talk about this.
The member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing rightly pointed out the studies we have done. We could probably paper this chamber with the studies that have been done, and still we have children with substandard education in this country, first nations children, Inuit children. When will it change?
The government talks about productivity. It talks about skills shortages. From meeting with first nations leaders from coast to coast to coast, what they are saying to us is, “We have the children. Educate them. They could be part of that work force. We want to take our place in the economy of this country. Give us the tools to do that”.
It gets worse. Because we cannot get justice in this country, organizations are forced to go to UN bodies to talk about the state of education in this country. I want to refer to a briefing called “Our Dreams Matter too: First Nations children's rights, lives and education”, a self-described alternate report from the Shannen's dream campaign to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on the occasion of Canada's third and fourth periodic reviews. Of course, I do not have time to read the whole brief, but I want to touch on two recommendations. In the preamble it says:
Inspired by our friend Shannen Koostachin, we respectfully ask the Committee to hear our voices and stand with us as we demand that the Government of Canada (INAC) respects our rights and honours its obligations to First Nations children, youth and communities. We are growing up right now and we cannot wait for the Government to decide to do the right thing.
One of the recommendations refers to Jordan's principle:
Make sure Canada implements “Jordan’s Principle” across all Government services provided to First Nations children and youth. This would prevent us from receiving inequitable levels of service, experiencing excessive wait times and being denied urgent medical and other needed care simply because the provincial and federal governments can’t figure out who should pay for the service.
This is in the voices of the children in this country.
It is not just members of first nations who are talking about Jordan's principle. The Auditor General, in her May 2008 report, talked about how first nations child and family services reflected the inequities in this country in terms of adequate child welfare services on reserve. She pointed out that Jordan's principle put first nations children first. She said:
However, in our view, a dispute-resolution mechanism will not work in the presence of irreconcilable differences and without a change in funding authorities. Such difficulties need to be resolved if this proposal is to result in better and timelier services to First Nations children.
I want to refer to fighting the good fight, Jordan's principle. This outlines the background and talks about what has happened so far.
Many first nations children are caught in payment disputes within or between the federal and provincial governments. This can have a significant impact on their access to essential medical and health services.
As a little aside, not only is it between federal and provincial governments, but we also understand it is between federal government departments. Health Canada will say that it is not its responsibility. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will say that it is not its responsibility. Those two departments of government point the finger at each other while children once again wait for care.
It is not just complex medical needs. That is why I am invoking Jordan's principle in the context of education. First nations children should not be treated differently in terms of access to quality education.
Back to fighting the good fight. Several organizations and individuals have fought the good fight to change this.
In December 2007, Jordan's principle was adopted in the House of Commons. This child-first principle says that when a dispute arises between the two government parties regarding payment for services for a status Indian child, the government of first contact must pay for services without delay or disruption.
This principle was named in honour of Jordan River Anderson, a child from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, who was born with complex medical needs. He spent over two years unnecessarily in hospital because the federal and provincial governments could not agree on who should pay for his care in a specialized foster home in his community.
Jordan passed away having spent his whole life in hospital. That is a crime in this country. It is even worse. Jordan River Anderson's family had to surrender him to provincial care because the federal government would not pay for his care in his community.
First of all, Jordan spent two years in hospital being stabilized, getting to the level where he could go into a specialized foster home. At that age, when he could have gone into a family home and received the love and support of a family environment, the federal and provincial governments said, “It is not my job to pay for this. It is somebody else's responsibility.” Jordan spent the next two years in hospital. Then he passed away. All it would have taken was one level of government to step up to the plate and say “We will pay for this child's care, and we will fight about the money later.” That did not happen.
Canadians across this country should be outraged that we allow children, first nations, Métis and Inuit children, to be subject to that kind of care in this country in this day and age.
Sadly, since 2007, there has not been the kind of action that one would presume would happen when a unanimous motion is passed in this House of Commons. One would expect members from all parties to say, “We agree, first nations children should be put first in this country. We will pony up the money and fight about who pays later.”
That has not happened. Five years later, that has not happened. I urge all members in this House to stand up and support Shannen's dream as a statement that we believe in equality for first nations children, Métis children and Inuit children across this country.