Mr. Speaker, I am here to speak to Bill C-92, which deals with the important issue, especially to my riding of North Island—Powell River, of indigenous children in care.
I want to take a moment to thank all the local indigenous communities and organizations that represent first nations, Inuit and Métis groups and communities in my riding for the hard work they do every day for the children they represent.
In indigenous communities, children are sacred. I think of some of the communities I represent. I think of the elder, Elsie Paul. She talked to me about how children were seen as a gift from the Creator, that they were given to the community to raise and when that child was taken, what that meant to the community.
I think about Alberta Billy, elder in another indigenous community that I represent. He talked to me about the impact of colonization and residential schools on the community. He told me to imagine my community right now. He said remove every child from the age of four to 16 from the community and see how the community would react and respond. I think of those elders who have watched their communities struggle through the challenges of colonization, residential school, the sixties scoop and many more and how hard that has been on them.
We also need to look at the numbers, and I have some of them today.
One hundred and twelve years ago Dr. Bryce, a medical health officer, linked federal health funding inequities to preventable deaths of first nations children.
Seventy-three years ago child welfare experts called for increasing family support to reduce the number of first nations children in state care. This speaks to something important and something we still have not done, which is prevention and support for those communities.
Thirty-eight years ago experts called on then INAC to resolve jurisdictional disputes resulting in service denials to first nations children.
Twelve years ago the Assembly of First Nations and Caring Society filed the human rights case against Canada.
Two Auditor General reports confirmed child welfare funding inequity since 2008.
There are 165,000-plus first nations children affected by Canada's discriminatory services.
Twenty-five million is the approximate number of nights that first nations children spent in foster care since 2007.
These numbers are startling and they tell us a story about which all of us should be concerned.
Since 2016, seven Human Rights Tribunal orders have required in Canada to cease its discrimination. How many of these Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders has Canada fully complied with? Zero.
Whenever we stand in this place and speak about indigenous children, we must always remember and acknowledge Jordan River Anderson, a Cree child from Norway House Cree Nation. He died in Manitoba in 2005 at the age of five after the Manitoba and federal governments spent years fighting over who would pay for his home care. This speaks to the very core of this issue. It is about valuing indigenous children and the communities that love them. This young boy died as a result of discussions between two levels of government on who would fork over the money.
Nobody wants to know that this is the truth of how their children will treated, so I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that precious, sacred child, a gift from the Creator who should have been supported and looked after by the whole community, which also includes the country of Canada, and the family that worked so hard to support him and had to meet that terrible end. We cannot forget.
Today, there are three times as many indigenous children in government care as during the peak of the time of residential schools. The conditions and outcomes for kids in care today are often tragic and many experts say that the modern fallout of the child and family services program will now be called “the millennium scoop”. That is devastating. It shows that the history of the country is repeating itself, and this is unacceptable.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many indigenous artists out there who have spoken, be it through art, poetry or music. We cannot begin to recognize what this has done to the indigenous culture of the Métis, the first nations and Inuit people across the country.
I would like to take this opportunity to share some quotes from members of the Haisla Nation.
One is, “I can't remember my name.”
500 years my people have been humble
500 years we have dealt with the struggle
500 more years for all of my youngins
For 500 years we have been drumming and drumming.
We are in this important place, where important decisions are made that will have long-term impacts on people. It is too bad the government waited so long to introduce the bill. Now we are rushing it through.
That is hard for me. I take this really seriously. I have spoken about this in the House and in committee, in my role as vice-chair, about being a foster parent on a reserve, about the hard work we did in the community to try to keep the children at home, connected to their culture. I think of my husband who has taken foster children, young men, out to the river when their voices are changing. We want to keep them connected to the tradition that when they have that change of age, they do the hard work, go out and get the support of the community to do the sacred baths.
Here we are rushing and trying to get it done. Indigenous children need action. However, in the rushing process, I am a little afraid that we will not get it right. We will get it done, but we will not get it right. Indigenous children deserve much better.
Earlier I mentioned the two Auditor General's reports on the failure of the Canadian governments on first nations children in care. In 2008, the Auditor General report found that since 1990, when the child and family service program was created, INAC had given money “to First Nations, their child welfare agencies, and provinces to cover the operating costs of child welfare services on reserves and the costs related to children brought into care.”
The Auditor General also concluded that as of 2008:
The funding INAC provides...is not based on the actual cost of delivering those services. It is based on a funding formula that the Department applies nationwide. The formula dates from 1988. It has not been changed to reflect variations in legislation and in child welfare services from province to province, or the actual number of children in care.
This really speaks to a systemic issue. It speaks to the reality that indigenous children have been left behind and not valued. Not only have they been left behind, but the value and the preventative support that families and communities desperately need are not a priority.
This country knows its history. We know the colonial history. We know the devaluation of indigenous members of the country. We know the history of trying to destroy, in multiple ways, those communities. If we break it, we have to pay for it.
One of the things that concerns me greatly about the legislation is that the principles for funding are not in it. There is a small mention about funding, but it is nothing that will be strong enough. This is framework legislation. It is supposed to create something that is strong enough to hold that legislation indigenous communities bring forward. If the resources are not there, this will be another failure. Another Auditor General's report will tells us that this still has not been addressed.
In 2011, again, the Auditor General reported that:
Despite the federal government’s many efforts to implement our recommendations and improve its First Nations programs, we have seen a lack of progress in improving the lives and well-being of people living on reserves. Services available on reserves are often not comparable to those provided off reserves by provinces and municipalities. Conditions on reserves have remained poor. Change is needed if First Nations are to experience more meaningful outcomes from the services they receive.
Years have gone by. We are now sitting in a Parliament after a Human Rights Tribunal decision was made in 2016. The government of the day received seven non-compliance orders. We are here tonight talking about this legislation. I am concerned, because the proof is in the action, and I do not see that action. What I am most concerned about is the resources required to deal with this systemic issue, to realize that the racism and discrimination is built right into the system. To pull that out takes a lot of work and a lot of resources. If we want to make a difference for indigenous communities, if we want to honour first nations, Inuit and Métis communities, we have to see those resources finally there.
The Human Rights Tribunal in Canada concluded that the then INAC's delivery of services and funding of services was inferior to comparable provincial services and discriminatory on the basis of race. It ordered the government to make up the funding gap and implement Jordan's Principle. As of June 2017, the government has spent $707,000 fighting against this decision, and that is really sad.
When we look at Bill C-92, it is like history is repeating itself. I will support the legislation. I will trust that indigenous communities across the country will do their hard work.
I want to recognize as well that indigenous communities, like the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, have been very clear that they do not support the legislation. I have asked the committee to recognize that and ensure that indigenous communities have the right to opt out, but that they still would get the resources they desperately need to make a difference. However, that is still not addressed in the legislation and it needs to be. It is time for substantive change. It is good to speak about it, but it is important that we act on it as well.
The bill would set national standards, but it has numerous question marks and gaps that are outstanding, including accountability, jurisdiction, data collection and reporting and, most critical, funding. The bill leaves funding to negotiations between Canada, indigenous groups and the provinces, meaning it could vary widely.
As the member for North Island—Powell River, I represent small indigenous communities. Often they are very remote and have a lot of challenges they specifically face. I do not know if the legislation before us will do it, but I will watch and continue to propose solutions. Those small communities have very big challenges and the capacity can be very hard for them to gather. We want to ensure those communities have a voice at the table. We want to ensure they have a process they can move forward with and have faith in. However, there is some concern that those resources will not be there.
A lot of people came to committee and talked about a lot of issues. The vast majority of the witnesses expressed concern. They wanted to see funding principles in the legislation. We were not successful in getting that amendment passed. Therefore, we will all be watching this very closely.
The government was given an opportunity to support funding provisions with which nearly every witness at committee agreed. What we saw were half measures. I am concerned about that and I will be watching for this. We will be talking to communities and ensuring they see the progress that the government has assured us will happen. We need to see that progress. Enough is enough.
These children deserve the right to be children. When they do not have the resources or the home they desperately need, their right to be a child is taken away.
Ms. Natasha Reimer, the founder of Foster Up, spoke to the committee. She said:
Yes. I think funding is a key component. Without adequate funding, services and resources, we are failing these children and youth in care. We leave them unsupported, and unable to thrive and reach their full potential. I think it's crucial that we have legislation ensuring that there is funding allocated for this and that these resources are given the utmost that we could possibly give, because these are children's lives we're talking about. They deserve an opportunity. They are kids, at the end of the day.
I think it is sad how many children in this country have a history of not being allowed to be children. We heard some of that testimony from children who had spent great portions of their childhood in care, and they talked about the challenges. They talked about how hard it was to go home, how they did not know who they were, how hard it was to figure out who to connect with and when to connect with them. We had witnesses who were from multiple nations who did not know which one to go to or who to go to first, or how.
When we look at the system, we can see how broken it is. We heard it from those witnesses who came and talked about their addiction issues. One person gave testimony about the challenges he faced and how hard he had to work to become a parent because he did not know how to be one. I think it is important that we in this place recognize that this falls on our shoulders, because decisions were made here. This decision has to be made and has to be made respectfully, because those children deserve it.
Naiomi Metallic from the Yellowhead Institute stated:
This [funding] is intertwined with jurisdiction because, really, if there is no funding and accountability built into this act, what this bill will do is merely provide indigenous people with the jurisdiction to legislate over their own poverty.
Another issue that came up was the number of children who are taken away from their community because the community does not have the resources, the basic necessities, to provide for their children, which should never happen. That does not mean we should leave children in substandard housing; it means this place has to take responsibility and look at how it can become an ally. This is still an issue. We still do not know where the indigenous plan is for housing. I think that is devastating in this day and age.
Another thing that really concerned me was the best interests of the child. That has been defined by court systems across Canada, both provincially and federally. In the community I married into, the Homalco First Nation, when I had my children with my husband, I was told the relationship between the parent and the child is deemed completely sacred and that nothing should ever interfere with that loving relationship. In that community, the historic practice was that aunties and uncles were in charge of disciplining the child, because they did not want that to interfere, ever, with the parents' ability to love that kid up. There are ways that certain things are done, and making sure that this is recognized is important.
I want to thank the national chief from the Assembly of First Nations, who stated:
...the best interests of the child sections should be amended to clarify that first nations governing bodies that pass laws prescribing the factors for determining the best interests of the children will add to the factors in the bill, creating recognition and support for our ways of caring for our children and families. This is important, because for some of our people we do not remove a child. We remove the person harming the child and keep the family intact. We believe that this is in the best interests of the child. Our laws must be affirmed and our practices supported to preserve family unity.
Therefore, we must understand in this place that indigenous communities do it differently. Quite frankly, I think we have a lot to learn from that. What concerns me is that this legislation is not clear enough to make sure that the definition is defined in those communities. It has been defined already in the court systems in this country, which could be a serious concern. I do not think that was addressed as clearly as it could be.
I know my time is ending, so I want to take this opportunity to recognize the first peoples of this place—the indigenous communities, the first nations, the Inuit and Métis—and say that it is with great sorrow that we are here today debating this. This should not be what is happening. The history of Canada is a shameful one.
As my granny said, we have to make it right, so I will support this bill and I look forward to continuing to work hard in the future to make it right.