Nearly half of the 30,000 children in foster care in Canada are aboriginal, a horrifying figure first revealed by Statistics Canada's National Household Survey this month. In light of the magnitude of the problem and the vulnerability of the children, it's doubly horrifying to learn of the federal government's delaying tactics at a human-rights hearing into a complaint that Ottawa is shortchanging child-welfare services on reserve.
The complaint, filed back in 2007, says in essence that Ottawa's child-welfare funding treats aboriginal children as second-class citizens. On-reserve child-welfare services receive 22 per cent less money per capita than similar services receive from the provinces, the complaint alleges, a figure apparently drawn from a joint review in 2000 by the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian government.
Funding of prevention services such as addiction counselling, parenting education and special-needs supports are grossly under-supported, in effect forcing children into care, the complaint alleges. It also claims the reserves with the most needy children and families receive the lowest per-capita support, because of the way the funding formula works.
The complaint was filed back in 2007 by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, a non-profit group advocacy group, and the Assembly of First Nations, representing the country's native chiefs. Ottawa fought tooth-and-nail to have it thrown out, spending $3.1-million on legal fees, as of last year. The Federal Court said last year that the hearing should go ahead.
The federal government was thus required to share all relevant documents, and duly handed over a few thousand; but Cindy Blackstock, head of the Caring Society, became suspicious that Ottawa knew more than it was revealing. So she did an access to information request and, lo and behold, the government produced another 4,000 documents. Later Ottawa declared that another 50,000 documents would be forthcoming – but it would need as long as seven months to produce them. It asked for an adjournment.
Sounds like a reward for questionable behaviour. This generation of aboriginal children may have grown up by the time the complaint is adjudicated.
At the same time as Ottawa is playing games over the retrieval of documents, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created by the federal government, has been holding hearings about the residential schools to which several generations of native children were taken, at times forcibly, and in which many were abused.
Unless this country takes a good long look at what is happening to today's aboriginal children and families, its inquiry into past abuses will be meaningless at best.