That the House call on the government to comply with the historic ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering the end of discrimination against First Nations children, including by:
(a) immediately investing an additional $155 million in new funding for the delivery of child welfare that has been identified as the shortfall this year alone, and establishing a funding plan for future years that will end the systemic shortfalls in First Nations child welfare;
(b) implementing the full definition of Jordan's Principle as outlined in a resolution passed by the House on December 12, 2007;
(c) fully complying with all orders made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and committing to stop fighting Indigenous families in court who are seeking access to services covered by the federal government; and
(d) making public all pertinent documents related to the overhaul of child welfare and the implementation of Jordan's Principle.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to open this debate this morning to put an end to the systemic and racist discrimination against indigenous youth in Canada. However, I am very troubled by the fact that we had to force a debate in the House of Commons to get the government to recognize its legal obligation to comply with the historic ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
The Prime Minister is also the Minister of Youth, and he told Canadians that renewing the relationship with the first nations was a priority for him. Unfortunately, the government continues to drag its feet when it comes to complying with the tribunal's ruling, even though it was ordered to take immediate action. The government has ignored orders twice since the ruling was handed down. What part of “immediate” does the Prime Minister not understand?
Because of this government's lack of due diligence, Parliament now has the duty to call on the government to honour its legal obligations regarding the welfare of children who continue to suffer because of a broken, underfunded system.
All across the country, young indigenous children are dying of despair every day. They go to schools that are underfunded, they have inferior health care services, and they are suffering the consequences of this government's broken promises.
What nation crushes the hopes and dreams of children? As a nation, our best resource is the potential of our children. The days of racism and systemic discrimination must come to an end. Reconciliation is not just a word. Reconciliation must become a reality.
I am very proud to rise in this House. What we are discussing today is about the choices we make as a nation, about the legal obligation, but above all it is about the children. I want to note that yesterday in the Manitoba legislature there was a unanimous condemnation of the government's refusal to respond to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
I want to pay tribute to 13-year-old Garrett Tomagatick from Fort Albany, who gave up hope this week and died. I want to thank the Canadian Rangers who were there at his funeral, because they do so much good work in our region. I think of the three others we lost in Fort Albany alone just this year, that beautiful little community. I think of the four in north Saskatchewan. I think of Sheridan Hookimaw, who was ground into hopelessness, and her death touched off the Attawapiskat crisis. We have seen 700-plus children try to kill themselves since 2009 in my region.
We have talked in this House about suicide and it is not specifically the issue of the day, but it is the public manifestation of the hopelessness and the failures that we can trace back through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling to the systemic racist discrimination against children in every area of public service that they are entitled to. I am heartbroken that we even have to stand in this House and force a debate on this issue, because we are talking about compliance with the law.
I think of, this past week, the story of Chanie Wenjack and Gord Downie that has opened Canadians' eyes to reconciliation. But there are hundreds of thousands of Chanie Wenjacks across Canada trying to find their way home now; trying to find their way home to hope, trying to find their way home to identity, and the 163,000 Chanie Wenjacks who want to come home to their families and are in a broken and badly underfunded child welfare system.
When the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in January that the government was guilty of systemic and racist discrimination against children, it shone a light on that broken system, and the tribunal ordered immediate money to be put into that underfunded system. What the government responded with in March was its budget, in which it promised $71 million. When the shortfall was over, $200 million had been identified. The current government that spent $7 billion this past summer on flagpoles, tennis courts, and good-time announcements could not find the money to meet its legal requirements to keep children protected.
Then we find out that the government actually never even bothered to respond to the compliance orders. It simply brought forward numbers that had been put together by the department of Indian affairs in the dying days of the last government. It says it responded to the tribunal, but no; it continued to ignore it.
What does this mean for children on the ground? There have been more than 2.6 million sleepless nights for children who have been away from their families since the tribunal ruling. There are stories that connect the broken child welfare system to the hopelessness and deaths of children. Tina Fontaine was taken from her family and found in a bag in a Winnipeg river.
We think of Azraya Kokopenace of Grassy Narrows, whose little brother died from mercury poisoning. One of the effects of mercury is depression, apparently, so she ended up needing help, but the broken child welfare system did not help her and her family. It put her into foster care. The poor little girl ended up on the streets, dealing with police; she was put in a hospital one night with no oversight or adult to look after her; she walked out and they found her body later.
It is said that a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. How do the hearts of women end up on the ground? It is when their children are taken. That was what the white conquerors figured out first off, and it is happening today. I talked to a mother the other day, who asked, “How do I sleep at night when I don't know where my babies are?”
We learned recently, in British Columbia, that there are horrific levels of sexual abuse against children in the child welfare system, the vast majority of them indigenous children. In Alberta, studies show that more than 741 children in the child welfare system died between 1999 and 2003, the vast majority of them first nation children.
Raven Sinclair told the Calgary Herald there was nothing accidental about these shocking deaths. She said, “There are an incredible number of kids dying in care each year. This isn’t just an accident. It is not a fluke of statistics. It is happening year after year”.
The other thing that was ruled on was Jordan's principle. We voted in the House for the principle for Jordan River Anderson, the little boy who died in the hospital and never got home because the feds and the province argued about jurisdiction. The House passed a motion saying that all first nation children should be eligible for medical services, and the government is now at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal arguing about what that means. It is saying it will agree to pay for treatment for children who are badly handicapped on reserve, but not other children, and it will continue to fight.
What does that look like to children? I will give the example of Pictou Landing First Nation, in 2011, almost bankrupting itself trying to fight to get home care for a badly handicapped little boy. The government's case was thrown out because the justice recognized that the government had supported Jordan's principle, so it could not actually deny this child care. The government appealed it and actually wanted the family to pay its court costs.
We saw, through the tribunal, the ruling in internal documents in 2012, about a child who needed a special bed to keep from suffocating. Health Canada wrote on the report “Absolutely not”, and the doctor had to pay for it.
The new government is saying it will deal with those cases; it will accept the ruling and remain in compliance. However, other children will continue to be denied. On the very day that this ruling came down, the health minister's department turned down the third-round appeal for special orthodontic surgery for a little girl from Alberta.
At the time, Health Canada denial rates for orthodontic appeals were 80% in the first round, 99% in the second round, and a full 100% in the third round. Tell me that is not systemic denial of services to children. However, with the new government, it has gotten worse. It is now 99% denials in the first round for orthodontic surgery, 99% at the second level, and 100% at the third level. How can government members stand in the House and say they are going to support children when they are actually fighting that family in court?
In fact, the health minister decided that there was a better way to spend taxpayers' money. She spent three times the amount of money on lawyers in the justice department to fight that little girl's family than it would have cost to provide the medical care.
That is what systemic, racist discrimination looks like. I want to see the government stand up today and tell us that little girl in Alberta will not have to worry that her teeth are going to fall in because she is being denied service while government lawyers fight her family. This is not a question that is asking for something unfair. This is about compliance with the law.
In my final moments, I want to talk about the suicide crisis we are seeing. When the little girl from Grassy Narrows died, what we heard was that there were no mental health services. What I have seen in northern Saskatchewan and heard elsewhere is that they could not get the treatment or they were denied the treatment.
I asked an official at Health Canada if the department tracked the young people who were turned down or the delay rates. He said, “Yes, we are very concerned about mental health. Yes, to answer your question, the department does have records of people.” I asked if he would share those statistics, and he said the department would be happy to provide those statistics.
We wrote to the department and asked it to provide the statistics tracking the young people who were being denied health services and who were facing suicide. The department wrote us back, saying that Health Canada was unable to provide data on the number of requests and approval rates.
Health Canada does not track the children it rejects. What kind of system does not even bother to keep track of the children under its responsibility? That is why children are dying. That is why children are ending upon the street. That is why the government has been found guilty of racist, systemic discrimination against children.
What we are hearing now is that change is incremental, that we should not worry because it will get better over time. I am sorry, but the communities we represent should not have to crawl and fight for inches of ground when children are suffering, when children are being denied their greatest potential.
What we are asking for through the compliance orders of the Human Rights Tribunal is actually peanuts compared to what the government would be willing to spend on other things. What kind of nation thinks it can squander the hope and potential of their children? What kind of government believes it is above the law, when we are talking about racist discrimination, systemic discrimination against children?
It is a question of what kind of Canada we are going to be in 2016. Children only get one childhood. Once it is gone, it can never come back. I am urging my colleagues in the House of Commons to do the right thing. What we are asking here is not the opinion of the New Democratic Party, these are the findings of the Human Rights Tribunal that affects all of our nation. We can do better as a nation if we are willing to put the needs of the children first.
At the beginning, I spoke about the young children we have lost. I do not want to come in here to do another motion in the name of a child who was lost because of systemic laziness. I want us to be promoting the children who are going to go on and create the kind of Canada that we need.
However, we need to see the government recognize that it has legal responsibilities, that it has to meet these terms that have been laid out, the full implementation of Jordan's principle. It needs to stand up in court and say that it will no longer fight families in court, that it will meet that shortfall in child welfare that has been identified this year as $155 million, and that it will explain to the Canadian public why it did not even bother to crunch numbers in response to the Human Rights Tribunal. It just pulled a set of numbers off the shelf and handed it off, pretending it was its own. It is like stealing someone else's homework and thinking it will be patted on the back for it. It is not acceptable.
The $71 million this year does not cut it. The amount of money the government has put aside for next year does not cut it. It does not meet the shortfalls that have been identified. This is the final element of our motion, that the government needs to come forward with the documents to prove whether it has been studying this at all or is just making up numbers out of thin air.
I have enormous respect for the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. I know she wants to support the motion. I also know that the Prime Minister gets his advice from Michael Wernick. That is the man who has the Prime Minister's ear. Michael Wernick fought the legal case against Cindy Blackstock, tooth and nail, for nine years.
I want to see the government putting the interests of children first for a change, and not the interests of the finance minister or Michael Wernick. This is about the children. We need to do this.