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Ottawa’s failure to act is putting children’s lives on the line: First Nations advocate

I feel like I have failed these kids: Blackstock
WATCH ABOVE: Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society tells Vassy Kapelos the federal government is spending $500 million on Canada’s birthday and another great gift would be to immediately pay $155 million for First Nations child welfare.

The federal government’s continued discrimination against First Nations children on reserves – despite an order last year to increase funding for public services – is costing children’s lives, advocate Cindy Blackstock says.

A landmark ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal last January found First Nations are adversely affected by the services provides and, in some cases, denied services as a result of the government’s involvement.

The ruling from the quasi-judicial body, which is legally binding, found the inadequate funding is a form of discrimination. The tribunal subsequently ordered the federal government to provide detailed calculations on why the $71 million earmarked for child welfare in 2016 was adequate to meet its obligations, and gave Indigenous Affairs two weeks to confirm implementation of Jordan’s Principle — a policy designed to ensure First Nations children can obtain services without getting caught in red tape.

READ MORE: 5 things to know about landmark ruling on First Nations child welfare case

“It’s supposed to mean First Nations children can access [services] on the same terms as other Canadian kids,” Blackstock told The West Block.
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“They were to immediately implement that, but they haven’t. And we’ve seen one tragedy after another unfold.”

Ottawa is responsible for delivering public services to children on reserves, as opposed to all other Canadian children whose services are funded by provincial governments.

READ MORE: Ottawa slammed on First Nations funding for child welfare, suicide prevention

Those services include everything from education, to health care and child welfare.

“Going back at least 110 years ago, Canada was made aware of how their under-funding of these services was actually leading to the unnecessary deaths of children in residential schools,” Blackstock said. “Now we know more recently, from auditor general reports, that those inequalities continue across every area of First Nations’ children’s experiences. They get less funding because they’re on reserve.”

Last week marked one year since the tribunal’s order to stop the discrimination in underfunding child welfare. But the government has yet to act, Blackstock says.

WATCH: National suicide strategy urged after deaths of 2 youths in northern Ontario: First Nations chief

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The government has argued that at least part of the issue lies with the responsible agencies, that they can’t handle the capacity.

Blackstock challenged that notion, saying she has seen no evidence from the from the government demonstrating that any of the more than 100 First Nations agencies, including many that have been operating for more than two decades, is failing at addressing and implementing services.

In the time since, Health Minister Jane Philpott pledged $382 million over three years for child welfare. To date, only about $11 million has been for children, Blackstock said.

READ MORE: First Nations leaders slam Trudeau government for ‘dragging their feet’ on youth suicide crisis

“Their compliance has been very piecemeal and in fact the [tribunal] has issued two non-compliance orders against the federal government,” she said.

As a result, the First Nations child advocate said, some children are taken from their families and put in foster care; in severe cases, children take their lives.

Indigenous leaders and advocates have said Health Canada was aware last year of concerns about a suicide pact in Wapekeka First Nation, a small community of about 400 people in Northern Ontario.

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Community leaders asked the federal government for mental health funding, but received none.

Earlier this month, two 12-year-old girls in Wapekeka, Jolynn Winter and Chantel Fox, killed themselves.

“It’s not an over-exaggeration to say that the government’s conduct is really putting children in situations where they’re far more likely to die,” Blackstock said. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I feel like I have failed these kids. I don’t know how the government feels, but I feel like I’ve failed these kids.”

With files from The Canadian Press