Ottawaâ€”February 28, 2011
The Canadian Human Rights Commission has asked the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to expedite the hearing of a complaint sent for examination in 2009. The complaint deals with the welfare of children on reserves and could have important impact on the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the protections Canadians enjoy in law.
The complainants have filed a statement in court today to demand a judicial order that the case proceed to a hearing. The Commission hopes that this demand will prove unnecessary and that the case will proceed. The Commission has written to the Tribunal to express this view.
The complaint was brought by the Assembly of First Nations and First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada against Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. It is the first to come to the Tribunal since 2008, when Parliament repealed section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and, for the first time, Aboriginals on reserves became entitled to full human rights protection in dealings with the federal government.
The complainants allege that the formula for funding First Nations family service organizations systemically discriminates against these agencies on the basis of race. The groups maintain that the funding formula prevents First Nations child welfare agencies from providing the same level of support to families in crisis as agencies serving non-First Nations communities.
The Attorney General has argued that the provision of funding to First Nations family service organizations is not a â€œserviceâ€ as defined in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and that the complaint is therefore outside the scope of the Act.
After investigation, the Commission referred the complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing and adjudication. Pursuant to its statutory mandate, the Commission took the decision to intervene before the Tribunal in the public interest.
There are two main reasons why the Commission determined that the public interest is at issue in this case. First, is the humanitarian issue of under-funding, and its documented impact on the welfare of vulnerable children on reserves. The hardship of children makes this an urgent matter.
Secondly, the Tribunal’s decision could affect a wide range of cases involving federally funded programs and services. If it is determined that these services do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act, Canadians may no longer be able to file discrimination complaints in relation to services provided by the government.
The Federal Court has stated that this case should be heard. Case law from the courts has said that human rights complaints should proceed expeditiously. The Commission supports the Tribunal in that effort.
For more information or to request an interview:
Director, Communications Branch
Canadian Human Rights Commission