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'This was the only option left open to us,' said Robert Bertrand, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, seen here along with Francyne Joe, right, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, at a meeting of Canadian premiers and Indigenous leaders in Bouctouche, N.B., on July 18, 2018.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples submitted a court application on Wednesday to challenge the federal relief money that off-reserve Indigenous peoples have been allocated during the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing current amounts are discriminatory and inadequate.

In its filing in Federal Court, CAP takes issue with the $250,000 funding allocation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, saying it constitutes a deprivation of security of the person and potentially life.

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CAP, a national voice for off-reserve status and non-status Indians, Métis and southern Inuit, needs to be there for its constituents including those living in cities such as Winnipeg and Prince Albert, Sask., national chief Robert Bertrand told MPs on a House of Commons committee on Wednesday.

“This was the only option left open to us,” he said.

The legal filing outlines that CAP is submitting an application for judicial review of a decision by Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and cabinet to allocate the funding under the Indigenous Community Support Fund, a $305-million envelope announced as a result of COVID-19.

An e-mail on April 22 from the Department of Indigenous Services informed CAP of a decision to earmark $250,000 of that fund, the document said.

The majority of the fund has been allocated to members or affiliated organizations of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and governing members of the Métis National Council, the document said, adding that $15-million has been set aside for organizations and communities providing services in urban centres or off-reserve.

CAP said Wednesday it launched its legal action after the federal government “ignored” repeated efforts to work with the department to rectify the problem without litigation.

Indigenous Services is aware of the court challenge brought forward by CAP, Mr. Miller’s press secretary Vanessa Adams said Wednesday.

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“Indigenous Services Canada has provided $250,000 to CAP to assist their efforts in supporting Indigenous peoples during COVID-19,” she said. “This funding allocation is just one part of ISC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is complemented by actions taken across the government to support the most vulnerable during this time.”

Ms. Adams said the federal government knows more support is required and it is actively working with communities to identify and deliver it.

Other organizations, including the National Association of Friendship Centres, which is a network of more than 100 friendship centres and provincial and territorial associations across Canada, has also flagged concerns about funding amounts allotted to organizations helping urban Indigenous people.

“The majority of us don’t live in Inuit Nunagut, Métis homelands or First Nations,” association president Christopher Sheppard-Buote told the Commons committee on Wednesday.

“Canada needs to follow its own population data in creating policies and programs.”

Edith Cloutier, executive director of the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre, also told the committee it was reassuring to see the Indigenous Community Support Fund announced in response to the pandemic, but she said one of the blind spots is Indigenous populations who live in urban settings.

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NDP MP Leah Gazan, a First Nations human-rights activist who represents the riding of Winnipeg Centre, has also advocated for additional supports for the urban Indigenous population. She told the committee Indigenous people are eight times more likely to experience homelessness.

“This has become even more pronounced with the COVID-19 as a crisis," she said.

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