News / Edmonton

‘Nothing new’ for Indigenous child welfare in budget: Blackstock

MacEwan University hosts event on First Nations children Thursday, as critic decries federal inaction on court rulings.

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Caring Society, responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday February 23, 2017, as Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde listens.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Caring Society, responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday February 23, 2017, as Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde listens.

First Nations child welfare is going under the microscope at an Edmonton event  Thursday, one day after the federal budget disappointed critics by offering “nothing new” towards an “unfathomable” epidemic of youth suicides and underfunded services, Canada’s leading advocate told Metro.

Thursday’s lunchtime panel discussion and film screening at MacEwan University will tackle an issue that saw Ottawa defeated at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal last year, when it was ordered to spend as much per First Nations child as it does on other Canadian kids’ services.

But the social worker behind that landmark legal challenge — former University of Alberta professor Cindy Blackstock — said Wednesday’s budget failed Indigenous children once again.

“There’s nothing new in the budget for First Nations children and their families, in child welfare, or their implementation of the Jordan’s Principle,” she said in a phone interview, “even though they’ve been found out of compliance with legal orders to stop that inequality.

“It’s a moral issue: is Canada so broke that the finance minister and the Prime Minister have made a deliberate choice to discriminate against little kids?”

The Tribunal has ruled Ottawa “discriminated” against First Nations children on reserves, by paying less per-child for welfare and education than non-Indigenous kids get.

And it ordered the government to implement “Jordan’s Principle,” an approach that ensures First Nations children can access government services such as health care as easily as non-First Nations children — even if government agencies are in dispute over which one should pay for the service.

On Wednesday, Blackstock, director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, launched a new Tribunal case hoping to force the government to heed that court’s previous rulings. If that fails, she said, she’ll sue Ottawa for contempt of court.

The 2017 budget mentions Jordan’s Principle, but lists it under a section titled “progress to date,” stating Ottawa had already made investments towards “improving the welfare of First Nations children by providing funding for First Nations Child and Family Services and to support implementation of Jordan’s Principle.”

The budget promised to create an undefined “Indigenous Framework on Early Learning and Child Care” and touted the 2016 budget’s $108 million annually for new child welfare funding for First Nations kids.

Organized by the First Nations Children's Action Research and Education Service (FNCARES), Thursday's panel discussion and film screening of the documentary “Displaced: Indigenous Youth and the Child Welfare System” will take place at 12:30 p.m. at MacEwan University’s CN Theatre (10460-105 St. North-West).

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