Posts tagged ‘Human Rights’

For our Children, Justice Remains Elusive

Legalities and technicalities carry little common sense and no justice.

Yesterday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the case brought forward by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The decision was based on mere legalities and technicalities.

The Society and the AFN brought forward the case in 2007, alleging that the Government of Canada discriminates against First Nations by providing inadequate child welfare services to communities.

I use the word “alleging” but this is not an allegation. It is reality. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) does not provide the same level of services on-reserve as provincial governments do for non-native children elsewhere in Canada. The same goes for education, special education services, infrastructure, health care and so many other basic needs for First Nations people. Canada just does not provide adequate funding across the board.

However, the decision by the Human Rights Tribunal wasn’t based on these facts but legal interpretation. The Tribunal could not compare a provincially provided service with a federally provided service. According to their decision, the service provided by INAC to First Nations children cannot be compared to the level of service provided by the Provinces, as they are different and separate service providers and service recipients. The Tribunal questioned whether INAC funding to First Nations could even be considered a service. The decision suggests that the federal government can provide a different, albeit inequitable, level of service to First Nations children as long as it does so consistently to all First Nations children on-reserve.

My questions is: when will these entities of justice, ever give First Nations justice? There’s no question, it is discrimination. But because it doesn’t fall neatly into Section 5 (b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or doesn’t conform to the definition of differentiation of services, justice is denied again.

The same goes for government decision-making. Why does every decision made by government have to be cleared by legal? It seems that government must always assess the impact of aboriginal rights and the Crown’s duty and liability? Why can’t government make a decision that is in the best interests of First Nations rather than always protecting themselves? Why should it matter that they end up giving a little, and God forbid, move the yardstick in First Nations favour?

In the meantime, our child welfare agencies are chronically under-funded. Many exist, year to year, with crippling deficits. There are very few investments in prevention programs and customary care programs. Foster programs, many times, are voluntary and provided by relatives with little to no support. The need is tremendous.

The Federal Government will not provide any substantial child welfare funding and direct services. Why? Well, the Department of Justice will advise government not to take on further jurisdiction and liability for child welfare. If they fund First Nations child welfare providers any further, government may open themselves up to further claims of First Nations jurisdiction.

Common sense and doing the right thing are thrown out the window.

I’m sure the Tribunal Chair feels bad. I’m sure the Department of Justice lawyers feel bad. They know the reality. They know the need. But at the end of the day, they make their legal argument, then go home to their children, their dog, their white picket fences and their stately homes, all funded by Canadian justice system.

But for First Nations, and the children who bear the brunt of substandard and inequitable funding, justice remains elusive.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.