Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Finally Hears Aboriginal Child Welfare Case


After a seven-year legal fight waged by a prominent aboriginal-children’s advocate and the Assembly of First Nations against the federal government, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is finally hearing a case about the welfare of on-reserve aboriginal children.

The hard-won hearings began on February 25, 2013, and will resume on April 2. They will run a total of 14 weeks. At issue is whether discrepancies in welfare-services funding between on-reserve aboriginal children, whose care is paid for by the federal government, and off-reserve, which is funded by provincial and territorial governments, is tantamount to discrimination.

The Canadian government has spent about $3 million to try and get the case dismissed. On March 11 it lost yet another court appeal. Meanwhile the hearings had already started.

It all began back in 2007, when the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society filed a human-rights complaint alleging that on-reserve child-welfare services, which are paid for by the federal government, amounted to a good 22 percent less than those for other children. The complaint was filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which referred it to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, over which it has jurisdiction, the following year.

However the tribunal dismissed the case in 2011 without hearing it after the federal government argued successfully that a comparison between federal and provincial funding is not possible. This prompted the Family Caring Society and the AFN to file a lawsuit. On April 18, 2012, Federal Court ruled that the tribunal should not have dismissed the case and ordered the panel to hear the case on its merits. The federal government appealed and lost again.

“The society argued the funding gap has left on-reserve kids with less programming and less quality services, and often means kids on reserves are taken into care faster and more often than their off-reserve counterparts,” as the Winnipeg Free Press put it.

Now the case has come full circle, as it were, back to the tribunal for a full hearing.  The case hinges on how successful child advocate Cindy Blackstock, who heads the Family Caring Center, and the AFN will be at arguing, among other things, that more First Nations children are placed in foster care than non-aboriginal children. Not only that, but recent studies have shown that the number of children in foster care is greater than the number of children brought into Canada’s residential schools system during its 150-year period of operation, they say. 

Blackstock says that 30 to 40 percent of the numbers of children in foster care are indigenous, while that segment comprises just five percent of Canada’s child population at most, according to the Leveller.

“It remains unfortunate that the federal government continues to battle us in court on a fundamental issue of justice and equity for First Nations children,” said AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement the day after the court’s ruling on the hearings. “It should not have to get to this. However yesterday’s decision is a welcome step by the Federal Court of Appeal and one that will ensure these important hearings continue before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.”

Atleo delivered opening statements at the tribunal’s first day of hearings on February 25. The hearings will go on until the summer. The Canadian government has 60 days to appeal the court ruling and try to get the tribunal’s case dismissed.

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Jack Neal's picture
Jack Neal
Submitted by Jack Neal on
Being from a Naive American family (Hopi), where my brother & I seen injustice in a white mans court against the native Americans - just as it is still to this day being treated like "wild life" instead of equal human beings, I think it is time (especially being the "original Americans") to be treated EQUAL. It is time we all take a stand "together" legally and make this difference. I think the spirits of our tribes cries from their graves for us to do this thing. Let us hold hope that one day this can happen.

Preetam's picture
Submitted by Preetam on
In reality nothing has changed ; A Social welfare worker who had no idea about the social economic conditions of the child or our culture or the law, helped alienate my child(South Asian) forever from me by issuing a racist statement "She has a better chance in Canada" there by ripping my child of her identity of her right as per UN children's rights charter to be raised as per her culture and to be raised where it is in the child's best interest. No matter what the system looked down upon other cultures based solely by their limited knowledge of other cultures and countries. It's equivalent to a non Canadian watching a documentary on Bountiful community and saying girls in Canada are forced into becoming child brides to older men in a polygamous society:) !-sounds stupid but that's how welfare workers treat non Canadian parent's right to ethnic children. FYI: It is not legal to use generic socio political conditions of a country against a parent in international divorces but neither does the Canadian courts care nor do their workers on children's rights. They wont stop until they rip every available ethnic child of its heritage and assimilate into their mainstream Canadian society. Shame - you don't learn from history.

annette desjarlais's picture
annette desjarlais
Submitted by annette desjarlais on
i ve been abused so bad by cfs agencies since 1981 and to this day they do they are keeeping my kids away from me ever since the judge came out with his report on cfs in 2003 judge roger gregoire was the judge i was siiting with to hear about the failures that have and are ourred in cfsi hate the fact that someone is abusing their attuortity when they been trusted to protect children not the adults there the ones who are old enough to make decision i first got involved when my brother died in care and than i couldnt understand why a little who only knew how to say dad or mom and i just couldnt believe it a 23 month old died she just didnt die on her own she batttered and her body bruises and in her mouth her mouth was damaged it look like someone scaped to lining in her mouth it hurts to know that on one was found accountable for her death the murdered and missing women had made a butterfly in her honor and that made me wonder how did this get into cracks of the system that was to protect children fail and how come they under funded i think the pay out is too much it goes with life i hate the fact that most of the agency workers are all related my two youngest children were badly abused the first day they took them into care they put my children in a infested home with the people were roulette lastname and my children had got impettago and head lice my scares because the foster dad took a belt to my children i was told by my own children what happen to them soi asked cfs to remove my children from sandy bay and took them to shilo where the couple lived but they were very strict my 4 year old had to work before and after school if he didnt he didnt get to eat and so i called child protection services in brandon just to find out that hes related to the foster mother his name is marvin he said they were moving my kids elsrwhere they moved my little boy and my youngest child is with the foster mother in minto manitoba and now my kids 12 shes scared to talk about her her foster parent