Kamloops News

First Nations child advocate waiting for feds to end racial discrimination

Dr. Cindy Blackstock speaks at the International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect conference in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY - A leading advocate for First Nations children and families says she would like to see a lot less talk and a lot more action from the federal government.

Cindy Blackstock's First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada was one of two groups that brought a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal which ruled in January the existing system discriminates against First Nations children in the delivery of child welfare services.

"I measure change at the level of children, not in what politicians say," Blackstock said after a speech Wednesday to the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect in Calgary.

"You know this discrimination has gone through both political parties since Confederation and Canadians need to keep their eyes on the ground. Are things getting better for kids?

"If they're not, keep pressing because these kids are worth the money."

Blackstock told the conference the Canadian government has known how to help First Nations children for more than a century but never had the will to do anything about it.

Promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mean nothing until something is actually done, she said.

"It hasn't been substantial and I think that's where we really need to watch it. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, in fact, felt Canada's progress was so slow that it issued a compliance order against the federal government for failing to implement the January order," Blackstock said.

"That was done in April and we're waiting for another one to come down within the next couple of days."

In the government's submission to tribunal earlier this year, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said it had begun working with First Nations child welfare agencies to reform the system and eliminate any discrimination in levels of service.

It has committed $382 million over the next three years for what's known as Jordan's Principle, a policy designed to ensure First Nations children do not get caught up in bureaucratic spending disputes between governments.

It also promised to ensure that all children living on reserves with a disability or a short-term condition get quick access to any help they require regardless of bureaucracy.

But Blackstock remained worried that the new government will be the same as the old when it comes to taking care of children.

"It appears in a headline for a couple of days and then it gets replaced," said Blackstock.

"I think we really need to think about what is the most important Canadian story.

"What is more important (than) that Canadians keep their eye on than the racial discrimination by the federal government toward 163,000 little kids?"

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