Seeking Change, Aboriginal People turn to Human Rights Law

Ottawa, June 18, 2012 – Aboriginal people and First Nations organizations have filed over 300 human rights complaints since the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended in 2008 to encompass matters under the Indian Act, the Canadian Human Rights Commission reported today. The Commission released new statistics on the June 18thanniversary of this historic amendment.

“I’m encouraged by the extent to which people affected by the Indian Act, after over thirty years of virtual exclusion, are seeing the Canadian Human Rights Act as a potential catalyst for improving life on reserves,” Acting Chief Commissioner David Langtry said.

The 2008 amendment to the Act was immediately applicable to the federal government; however, a three-year transition period gave First Nations governments time to prepare for their new obligations and accountability. That transition ended a year ago today.

The Commission has since received 162 complaints against First Nations governments. Many of these cases involve issues such as on-reserve housing and eligibility to vote in Band council elections.

Of the 162 complaints against First Nations governments:

  • 47 complaints are undergoing examination at the Commission.
  • 38 complaints are in the early stages of the Commission’s process.
  • 77 complaints have been closed.

Aboriginal people and First Nations groups have filed a total of 150 complaints against the federal government since 2008. In many of these cases, complainants allege that federal funding for services delivered on-reserve is inequitable when compared to provincial and territorial funding for the same services off-reserve.

Of the 150 complaints against the federal government:

  • 3 complaints are in the early stages of the Commission’s process.
  • 62 complaints are under examination at the Commission.
  • 13 complaints have been referred by the Commission to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication.
  • 72 complaints have been closed.

“These complaints deal with alleged disparities in federal funding for services such as education, policing and child welfare,” Mr. Langtry said. “The issues raised in virtually all the complaints received by the Commission deal with complex and evolving areas of law and many could set precedents,” he said.

One important example is a case in which the First Nations Child and Family Services Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations allege that disparities in funding for child welfare services on reserves constitute discrimination. This case was referred back to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by the Federal Court. The Attorney General is appealing the Federal Court’s ruling.

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BACKGROUNDER

At issue: whether federal funding for services on-reserve falls within the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Act

Since the 2008 change to the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Commission has received complaints against various federal government departments from Aboriginal groups. Many of these cases allege that federal funding for health and social services on reserves is inadequate and discriminatory.

The Attorney General has argued that federal funding of services on reserves is outside the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Commission is challenging this interpretation. If accepted, it would set a precedent that could allow federal funding for services to First Nations communities to be exempt from human rights law.

The Commission has referred three separate cases involving this issue to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal:

  • Special Education
    The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation filed a human rights complaint alleging inadequate special education services in First Nations communities. The case focuses on two First Nations children, both with special needs.

The Commission recently referred the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Key issues include whether the federal government provides sufficient funding to allow First Nations children living on-reserve to receive special education comparable to that provided by the province off-reserve, and if not, does that failure violate Canadian human rights law.

  • Police Services
    The Mushkegowuk Council and several First Nations communities filed a complaint regarding the provision of police services and facilities. The complaint alleges that these services and facilities are suffering as a result of insufficient federal funding. It is alleged in the complaint that a cramped, unheated shack, without plumbing, serves as the temporary jail for people taken into temporary custody.

The complaint reports slow response times to domestic violence calls and property crime calls. It alleges that there is an inadequate number of officers to sufficiently cover the region. As a result, the safety of adults and children is at risk.

  • Child Welfare
    The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint regarding First Nations child welfare organizations receiving less funding than those that serve children off-reserve.

The Commission referred the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2009. But the Tribunal dismissed the case, accepting the Attorney General’s argument that federal and provincial funding levels could not be compared.

On April 18, 2012 the Federal Court overturned the Tribunal’s decision to dismiss the case, sending it back to the Tribunal for adjudication.

See April 18, 2012 news release.

The Attorney General is appealing the Federal Court’s ruling.

For more information:
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Media Relations
613-943-9118
http://www.chrc.gc.ca