The federal tribunal that rules on violations of human rights is demanding that the Liberal government take immediate steps to comply with multiple orders that it adequately address the health-care needs of First Nations children.
In a strongly worded ruling issued Friday, one that comes more than a year after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found Ottawa was discriminating against First Nations children by allowing jurisdictional issues to interfere with the provision of adequate care, a two-person tribunal panel said the government has not complied with its demand that the situation be corrected.
The ruling focuses on what is known as Jordan's Principle, named after a five-year-old Indigenous boy named Jordan River Anderson who fell through the health-care cracks, which says the level of government that is first approached to provide health services to a First Nations child must pay the upfront costs and the various jurisdictions will later determine who foots the bill.
The government did take some steps to rectify the problem that was identified in the tribunal's initial ruling of January, 2016, allotting up to $382.5-million over three years to what is known as the Jordan's Principle Child-First Initiative and meeting nearly 5,000 subsequent requests for health, social and educational products or services.
But the tribunal agreed with submissions from the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations that said Ottawa is still taking too narrow a definition of the principle and, as a result, it is is being applied only to certain subsets of First Nations children with disabilities or short-term conditions. Other children, said the tribunal, are still being left out.
"Canada is not in full compliance with the previous Jordan's principle orders in this matter," the panel said in its ruling. "The definition of Jordan's Principle adopted by Canada was a calculated, analyzed and informed policy choice based on financial impacts and potential risks rather than on the needs or the best interests of First Nations children …"
The tribunal panel also found that the suicide deaths of two 12-year-old girls in the Wapekeka First Nation in January, which came six months after Health Canada was alerted by Indigenous leaders about a suicide pact among local children and youth, may have been part of the fallout of the government's failure to comply with its ruling.
"While Canada provided assistance once the Wapekeka suicides occurred," said the panel, "the flaws in the Jordan's Principle process left any change of preventing the Wapekeka tragedy unaddressed and the tragic events."
The tribunal panel laid out a strict set of timelines for compliance, demanding that, by the end of July, the government is tracking all of the Jordan's Principle applications that it receives and their outcomes.
For its part, the government says it has already been working hard to comply with the tribunal's rulings.
"The Government of Canada has consistently stated its intent to act in compliance with the CHRT's orders related to Jordan's Principle and has put in place concrete measures to do so," Health Canada officials said in a statement on Friday after the CHRT decision was released. "We are carefully reviewing today's decision and, in particular, those areas where the CHRT has concluded that full compliance has not yet been reached while continuing to communicate effectively to reach those who need help."
But this is just the latest in a string of compliance orders issued by the tribunal panel and Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said she is willing to go to court if it does not result in concrete action.
"I am just horrified that it has now been four legal rulings and Canada had yet to comply, it's just shocking," Ms. Blackstock said in a telephone interview. The new order, which provides specific dates for compliance, she said "is exactly the type of order that we need to take up on a contempt application to the Federal Court if they fail to comply."