On October 20th 2014 I was given a significant opportunity to witness the Closing Submissions, of counsel for the Assembly of First Nations and others (“AFN”), made in the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Dr. Cindy Blackstock provided me with very helpful background information on the case which began on February 27th 2007.
The AFN’s complaint is that our own Government of Canada discriminates against First Nations children on reserves by providing them with less government child welfare funding, and therefore benefit, than non-aboriginal children in Canada. There are more than 160,000 First Nations children on reserve and the issue is whether discrimination occurred under Canada’s Human Rights Act.
The inequalities in the First Nations child welfare funding are well known such as in education. The negative impact from such inequality are also obvious e.g. more First Nations children in child welfare. “After several unsuccessful efforts by the Federal government to have the case dismissed on legal technicalities, a hearing on the complaint began on February 25, 2013 at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and were completed on October 24, 2014.” See the First Nation Caring Society of Canada at http://www.fncaringsociety.ca/i-am-witness.
Dr. Cindy Blackstock and her staff have been and continue to be resilient and peacefully steadfast towards justice for First Nation children in Canada. The AFNs submissions was strong and exhibited more than an sufficient evidence to demonstrate to the injustice in the treatment of First Nation’s children as compared to mainstream Canadian children. My father, who is an experienced civil litigation lawyer in Ontario, took me to Ottawa to hear the proceeding and he also was persuaded by AFN’s submissions. We both learnt a lot.
On June 11th 2008, our Prime Minster of Canada (Mr. Harper) correctly admitted Canada’s participation in the effort of the Residential School system “to kill the Indian in the child” and that it was “wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and we apologize for having done this.” However, how can we as Canadians consider such apology as sincere when at the same time, the same government, led by the same Prime Minister vigorously opposed relief for the long standing discriminatory treatment of the same Aboriginal people and their children in basic matters such as education? There is an appalling disconnect between the 2007 opposition by Canada before the Human Rights Commission and the 2008 apology by Canada for the brutality of the Residential School system.
Children continue to be separated from their families before and after the Prime Minister’s apology in 2008. As of 2010 there were about 27,000 Aboriginal children in provincial care and yet AFN’s sincere effort to correct the situation is met unjust opposition by Canada.
Humanity is not a luxury, but a necessity. We must make sacrifices in money, time, and effort to achieve non-discriminatory humanity in Canada. I am reminded of Aesop’s story on “The Trees and the Axe“. In the story, a woodsman asked for a handle for his axe from the tall, noble trees, and they thought it was a modest request. These older, well established trees voluntarily sacrificed a “a plain homely ash” to protect themselves. However, after the woodsman cut down the ash with a small knife he returned with his axe attached to a strong handle and cut down the whole forest. That is the long term consequence for sacrificing the vulnerable in society and in Canada the First Nations are the vulnerable within the vulnerable. Canada we can do better, much better. I pray the Human Rights Commission will see the truth and stop the de-forestation in Canada!