The federal government is taking steps to prevent First Nations children who fall ill on reserves from being denied proper treatment and medical supports because federal and provincial governments can't agree about who should pay.
The ministers of Health and Indigenous Affairs announced late on Tuesday that Ottawa will set aside an additional $382-million over three years to address what is known at Jordan's Principle.
Jordan River Anderson was a five-year-old boy from the remote Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba who suffered from a rare muscular disorder. The doctors agreed that he could return home after spending the first two years of his life in a Winnipeg hospital. But because neither level of government would agree to cover the costs of home care, he remained in the institution and died there in 2005 at the age of 5.
Two years later, the House of Commons passed the Jordan's Principle Implementation Act, which decreed that the level of government that is first approached regarding health services for a First Nations child must pay the costs and the jurisdictions will then figure out who must foot the bill. But the principle has been applied so narrowly that children are still falling through the cracks.
"Today, we are responding to these concerns and announcing a new approach to implement Jordan's Principle," Health Minister Jane Philpott and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a joint statement. "This approach will put the needs of children first and ensure that First Nations children living on-reserve receive the health and social services they need in a timely manner."
The ministers said the government will actively engage with the First Nations and the provinces to establish what supports are needed as well as to find ways to better co-ordinate efforts to prevent delays in receiving health care and social services.
The announcement came a day before the Indigenous Affairs Department is required to update the Human Rights Tribunal on the improvements it has made to the funding of child-welfare services on reserves after the tribunal in January ruled the existing system to be discriminatory.
In that decision, which ended a nine-year case, the tribunal ordered the full implementation of Jordan's Principle to ensure equal health care for indigenous children on reserves.
Jordan's Principle was also the third of 94 calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that looked into the abuses of indigenous children at Indian residential schools.
The Trudeau government has promised to create a better relationship with Canada's indigenous peoples and to implement all of the TRC's recommendations.
But three months after the Human Rights Tribunal's landmark ruling against the government, the tribunal said not enough was being done. It demanded in April that the Indigenous Affairs Department confirm that it had implemented Jordan's Principle, which the government did in early May. The money announced Tuesday supports that commitment.
Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Caring Society who brought the case to the tribunal, said late Tuesday that she was trying to figure out how the announced money was calculated and how it would help children.
"I am curious why they are continuing to limit Jordan's Principle to health and social services and are not applying it to all public services available to children such as education, early childhood, culture and language services that are under federal government control," said Dr. Blackstock.
She noted that the government is now promising that services will be delivered to First Nations children in a "timely manner."
But "there is no definition of what timely manner is," said Dr. Blackstock. "To be clear any additional steps for a First Nations child to access a public service that other children do not have to undertake would be discriminatory and contrary to the CHRT orders."