The Alberta government has outstanding questions about the impact of federal legislation now in effect that affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services, says the provincial children’s services minister.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Rebecca Schulz said Alberta asked the federal government late last year to push pause on the Jan. 1 date for implementation of the legislation because it wanted to see a clearer plan about the impacts of the bill.
Ottawa says the law is a recognition of an inherent right for Indigenous people to care for their own children while the legislation also sets cross-Canada standards, such as the best interests of the child, to guide child and family services.
“Given the significant concerns that we had, I did ask if there was a possibility to delay the implementation of this bill,” Ms. Schulz said.
“That’s not something the federal government was interested in. Given that, we recognize this bill has now come into effect and ultimately, now, essentially it is up to Indigenous governing bodies to come forward with frameworks. That’s up to them if they’re ready to move forward.”
The bill has been subject to scrutiny in other provinces as well, including most notably in Quebec.
At the beginning of December, Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel said her government would ask the Quebec Court of Appeal to rule on the constitutionality of the bill on grounds it exceeds Parliament’s jurisdiction.
The provincial government has said it considers the legislation to be an appropriation of its exclusive jurisdiction over social services and youth protection, adding the law will likely cause significant difficulties in the organization of health and social services in Quebec.
Alberta is not looking at pursuing a legal challenge, Ms. Schulz said, adding her province also supports the core principle of addressing the over-representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system and the need for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
But she said a number of central questions remain, including funding for its implementation.
“Ultimately, I also want to make sure that we can continue to support kids and families and work through some of these details as we move forward,” she said.
Ms. Schulz said she shared her concerns with federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller during a meeting in Ottawa last month, adding she is confident he is working quickly to address them.
For his part, Mr. Miller has conceded there is a need for greater communication with provinces about the changes.
He has also spoken directly with other provincial counterparts, including Manitoba’s Families Minister Heather Stefanson, who raised concerns publicly about the bill.
Ms. Stefanson wrote to Mr. Miller on Nov. 21 to say there are questions about a lack of communication and clarity about the legislation.
“Given the legislation will come into force in less than six weeks, I am concerned that we have received little additional detail on Canada’s plans regarding the act,” she wrote.
Additional information about the bill, known as C-92, was sent to provinces and communities, Mr. Miller told The Globe in December, adding funds need to be allocated to ensure communities that want to pass laws that take precedence have the capacity to do so.
Mr. Miller also said his department is working “intensely" to tackle the question of funding ahead of the next budget while he stressed he would not engage in proxy battles with provinces over the legislation. “I’ve made sure to underscore the fact that I will not be engaging in jurisdictional finger pointing," he said.
Ms. Schulz said she believes Mr. Miller’s approach is “very encouraging," adding: “He has been exceptionally candid and open to hearing the concerns, certainly of Alberta.
“I’m hopeful for where we are going to go moving forward but we really do need answers specifically around funding, liability, oversight, and we need some improved consultations moving forward if this is going to work.”