Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join the second reading debate today on Bill C-92, indigenous child welfare.
I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Durham. Recognizing that we have about 22 minutes remaining in this afternoon's debate, I will keep my remarks relatively brief to allow the member for Durham to have some time to debate this important issue.
Today in Canada, it is an unfortunate reality that the number of first nations, Inuit and Métis children in care continues to be far higher than that of the general population. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, more than 14,000, nearly 15,000, indigenous foster children are in private homes under the age of 15. That represents over half of all foster children in Canada. This is a statistic that should be troubling to each of us in the House and all of us across Canada.
When children are taken away from their families, too often, especially in the indigenous context, the language, the culture and the tradition of that community can also be lost when the children are no longer in their homes or communities.
Bill C-92 focuses on children living both on reserve and off reserve. It seeks to affirm the rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services and establish national principles, such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality, to guide the interpretation and administration of the bill.
I am hopeful the bill and its implementation lives up to those objectives. I hope all members of this House and those in future Parliaments hold all governments to account as we strive toward this implementation.
Unfortunately, for too long in Canadian history, we have failed indigenous communities in Canada. It is now incumbent on all of us to work together on the journey toward full and true reconciliation.
The purpose and principles outlined in clauses 8 and 9 of the bill aim to guide indigenous communities on the delivery of child and family services to keep families together and, ultimately, consistent with the call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reduce the number of indigenous children who live in care.
I draw the House's attention to “Canada's Residential Schools: The Legacy”, the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, volume 5, which was released in 2015. Chapter 1 is entitled “Child welfare: A system in crisis”. Unfortunately, it is not an easy read. In fact, at page 11, the report articulates the lasting negative legacy that the residential schools have left on indigenous Canadians and child poverty. The report reads:
Why are so many Aboriginal children taken into care? Poverty, family violence, sexual violence and substance abuse continue—conditions that are part of the sad legacy of residential schools—certainly play a role. The connection between residential schools and the present-day crisis of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system was painfully obvious to many Survivors who shared their statements with the Commission. Kay Adams explained that “all these years of growing up in the dorm I didn't go home to my family. I wasn't taught how to love. I wasn't taught how to be a family. I knew none of that.”
That is a very troubling legacy and it is a legacy that all Canadians have to face and address.
While there may be some concerns with the bill, on principle, we must support it. On principle, we must all work together as parliamentarians to ensure we can reduce the number of children who are no longer with their families, no longer in their communities, no longer learning their language, no longer learning their culture and history. So often, the greatest teachers are those within the community. They are family members, neighbours, leadership within the community. When a family loses that, we lose so much.
Unfortunately, this is not ancient history; this is recent history. Indeed, further within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, it states:
Aboriginal children were placed in non-Aboriginal homes across Canada, in the United States, and even overseas, with no attempt to preserve their culture and identity. The mass adoptions continued between 1960 and 1990.
Within our lifetime, within the lifetime of members of the House, aboriginal and indigenous children were being removed from their families, removed from their communities, not given the option to learn of their culture in the place that was best able to pass that on.
I want to wrap up to allow my colleague some time to speak, but I do want to mention a couple of points from a local level.
Reconciliation really does necessitate the participation of all Canadians. I want to highlight a couple of the things that have been undertaken in my riding of Perth—Wellington. A number of blanket exercises have taken place to help inform people of the experiences that were undertaken within indigenous communities. Local churches have undertaken efforts to reach out in reconciliation with indigenous communities.
I would like to quote from a Stratford Beacon Herald article of November 2018 about the Anglican church:
Though one memorial service can’t erase the Anglican Church’s role in subjugating Indigenous populations throughout Canada, that’s not the point. The point of Friday’s service was to continue the conversation around Truth and Reconciliation and foster a broader base of understanding between the church and Indigenous peoples in Canada.
This is a worthwhile goal for all of us to undertake, to foster a conversation and to work toward true reconciliation with indigenous peoples in Canada.