Important Human Rights Hearing Begins on February 25, 2013

OTTAWA – February 19, 2013– The welfare of thousands of Aboriginal children living on reserves will be front and centre in hearings that get underway at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal beginning on Monday, February 25, 2013.

The Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society allege that the Government of Canada is discriminating against First Nations families and children by inadequately funding child welfare services delivered on reserves as compared to the funding provided by provincial and territorial governments off reserve.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is participating in the case.

When:  Hearing begins on Monday, February 25, 2013, 9:30 a.m. (EST) 
The hearings will run for an estimated 14 weeks.

Where: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, 160 Elgin Street, 11th Floor, Ottawa

Please note: Though the hearing is open to the public, the hearing room has limited seating.

 

BACKGROUNDER

 

For more information:

Canadian Human Rights Commission
Media Relations
613-943-9118
communications@chrc-ccdp.gc.ca
www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca

Follow us on TWITTER: @CdnHumanRights (ENGLISH) @DroitPersonneCa (FRENCH)


Backgrounder

 

First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian Human Rights Commission

v. 

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

The welfare of thousands of Aboriginal children living on reserves will be front and centre in hearings that get underway at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal beginning February 25, 2013. 

The Tribunal will determine whether the Government of Canada is discriminating against First Nations families and children by inadequately funding child welfare services delivered on reserves as compared to the funding provided by provincial and territorial governments off reserve.

The case originates in a complaint by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations against the Government of Canada. The Canadian Human Rights Commission sent it to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication, but the Tribunal dismissed it in 2011, accepting the Government of Canada’s argument that federal and provincial funding levels cannot be compared.

Now, after years of legal wrangling (see Timeline below), the case returns to the Tribunal for a full hearing on the merits.

Allegations of under-funding of child welfare services provided on reserves, and the documented impact on vulnerable children, form the crux of the case. The complainants say under-funding of child welfare services on reserves results in greater numbers of First Nations children placed in foster care.

Many in Canada’s human rights legal community see this as an important test of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The outcome may help determine the extent to which Aboriginal people living on reserves can use the Canadian Human Rights Act as a tool to affect real, tangible change in their communities. 

The Government of Canada has taken the position that providing funding is not a “service” as defined by the Canadian Human Rights Act. If this interpretation is embraced by the Tribunal and the courts, the Government of Canada could become immune to discrimination complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act involving funding for many kinds of services delivered to First Nations communities. 

The Canadian Human Rights Commission, a party in the case, maintains that the complaint should be upheld. It takes the position that the Government of Canada’s interpretation would undermine Canada’s human rights legislation, adversely impacting First Nations people in particular. It would set a precedent for other on-reserve programs and services, such as police, health, and education.


TIMELINE

  • 2007: First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Assembly of First Nations and of Canada file a human rights complaint against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
  • 2008: The Canadian Human Rights Commission refers the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication. 
  • March 2011: The Tribunal dismisses the case, accepting the federal government’s argument that federal and provincial funding levels cannot be compared.
  • April 2011: The Canadian Human Rights Commission applies to the Federal Court for judicial review. 
  • June 2011: Acting Chief Commissioner David Langtry notes the importance of the child welfare case in a June 17 news release, saying:

“Full access to human rights protection has the potential to be a catalyst for real, tangible, positive change. However this could be nullified if the Attorney General succeeds in imposing such a narrow definition on the federal government’s obligations. That would perpetuate discrimination, instead of ending it, as Parliament intended.” 

  • April 18, 2012: The Federal Court overturns the Tribunal’s decision to dismiss the First Nations child welfare case, and returns the matter to Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing on the merits of the case. The federal government files an appeal.
  • Beginning February 25, 2013: The Tribunal will adjudicate the human rights complaint. 
  • March 6, 2013: The Federal Court of Appeal will hear the Government of Canada’s appeal of the Federal Court’s decision to order the Tribunal to conduct the full hearing. 


Background on the Canadian Human Rights Commission 
and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal

  • The Canadian Human Rights Act protects our rights to equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Commission investigates complaints about discrimination based on one any of 11 grounds (such as age, sex, disability, race, etc.) when the practice or action takes place in an area under federal jurisdiction. 
  • Most complaints are resolved by the Commission, without the need for a hearing at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Where warranted, however, complaints are referred to the Tribunal for adjudication. 
  • The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal operates independently of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
  • At Tribunal hearings, parties can present evidence, call and cross-examine witnesses, and make submissions on how the law should be applied to the facts.
  • The Tribunal has the power to decide whether there has been discrimination based on a prohibited ground, and to order remedies.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Commission may participate in complaints brought before the Tribunal in representation of the public interest, and this is indeed the case with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society complaint.

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