On February 23, 2007, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), a political organization representing all First Nations in Canada, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (the Caring Society), a national non-profit organization providing services to First Nations child welfare organizations, took the historic step of holding Canada accountable before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for its current treatment of First Nations children. The complaint alleges that the Government of Canada had a longstanding pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children.
The inequalities in First Nations child welfare funding are longstanding and well documented (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples [RCAP], 1996; McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Loxley et. al., 2005; Amnesty International, 2006; Assembly of First Nations, 2007; Auditor General of Canada, 2008; Standing Committee on Public Accounts, 2009) as are the tragic consequences of First Nations children going into child welfare care due, in part, to the unavailability of equitable family support services (McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Blackstock and Trocme, 2005; Amnesty International, 2006; Clarke, 2007; Auditor General of Canada, 2008; National Council on Welfare, 2008). This inequity is further amplified for First Nations children by shortfalls in education funding, housing and publicly funded voluntary sector supports (Blackstock, 2008).
In October of 2008, the Canadian Human Rights Commission referred the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to determine whether or not discrimination had occurred pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is similar to a court process with all evidence taken under oath. The Tribunal is open to the public and can order a remedy to discrimination.
After numerous attempts by the federal government to have the case dismissed, hearings at the Tribunal began in February 2013, and concluded in October 2014.
On January 26, 2016, the Tribunal ruled that the Canadian government is racially discriminating against 165,000 First Nations children.
Canadian Human Rights Commission Guide to Understanding the Canadian Human Rights Act
Canadian Human Rights Commission Human Rights Handbook for First Nations
Interview with Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada
Lisa Abel interviews Cindy Blackstock on the First Nations Child Welfare Tribunal, September 17, 2009
Why is this case important?
First Nations children are drastically over represented in child welfare care. As of May of 2005, the Wen:de study found that 0.67% of non Aboriginal children were in child welfare care in three sample provinces in Canada as compared to 10.23% of status Indian children. Overall there are more First Nations children in child welfare care in Canada than at the height of residential schools.
First Nations children are entering child welfare care at increasing rates. According to federal government figures the number of status Indian children entering child welfare care rose 71.5% nationally between 1995-2001.
The Canadian Incidence Study on Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) has found that First Nations children come to the attention of child welfare authorities for different reasons than non Aboriginal children. First Nations are not more likely to experience abuse than non-Aboriginal children. First Nations children are more likely to be reported for neglect which is driven by poverty, poor housing and caregiver substance misuse.
Provincial child welfare laws apply both on and off reserves. The provinces fund child welfare for children off reserve but expect the federal government to fund it on reserve. If the federal government does not fund the services or funds them inadequately, the provinces typically do not top up the funding levels. This results in a two tiered child welfare system where First Nations children on reserves get less funding for child welfare than other children.
Repeated reports, including by the Auditor General of Canada (2008) and Standing Committee on Public Accounts (2009) confirm that federal government funding for child welfare services on reserves is inadequate and must be changed in order to ensure First Nations children and families on reserves receive a comparable and culturally based child welfare services. Although the federal government has been aware of the shortfalls in its child welfare funding for over nine years, it has implemented only modest improvements in three provinces.
Read what INAC documents obtained under access to information say about child welfare funding on reserves
About Being a 'witness'
What does it mean to be a witness?
By being a witness you are making a commitment to follow the case by either coming to watch the tribunal in person or by following it in your local media. As a caring Canadian, we invite you to follow this historic case and then decide for yourself whether or not you feel the federal government is treating First Nations children fairly today.
Who can be a witness?
Anyone can be a witness. To sign up to be a witness, click the Sign Up to Support Our Campains buttons on the right. We keep track of how many people sign up but do not display names.
How can I follow the case?
As a witness, we ask you to turn to your local media, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the Caring Society's social media (Twitter - @Caringsociety, Facebook /Caringsociety) and this website for updated information on the tribunal as it occurs. We will do our best to ensure this historic story is covered and you can help by alerting your local media sources.
Why will being a witness help?
It is when caring citizens do not engage that the most horrible human rights abuses can happen. As a witness you are sending a message that you care about all children being treated fairly and equitably by governments.
Share what you think about the First Nations child welfare case with #Witness4FNKids on Twitter, Facebook or other social media.
Does it cost anything?
Explore the What You Can Do section for more ways to participate in meaningful reconciliation!