The federal government is facing calls to not appeal new findings from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal this week that ordered services be expanded to non-status First Nations children living off reserve.
Rachel Blaney, the NDP’s Crown-Indigenous relations critic, asked Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller in Question Period on Friday about whether the government would commit to not making an appeal.
“Will the minister please commit today to not appeal this decision?” she said. “Will the government do this, or will it continue to fight Indigenous kids in court?”
On Wednesday, the tribunal released findings to broaden criteria for what’s known as Jordan’s Principle.
The principle is named after Jordan River Anderson, a five-year-old boy who died in hospital in 2005 after a lengthy battle between the federal and Manitoba governments over home care costs.
The federal government says the principle is designed to ensure First Nations children can access services and supports they need when they need them. Jordan’s Principle requires that kids get access to services without delays caused by jurisdictional issues.
The tribunal said the criteria now include a child who is registered or eligible to be registered under the Indian Act, a child who has a parent or guardian registered under the Indian Act, a child recognized by their community for the purposes of Jordan’s Principle and a child who is ordinarily a resident on reserve.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, said Friday that the order from the tribunal means that more First Nations children could benefit from Jordan’s Principle.
“Before, the Canadian government said that if a First Nations child lived off reserve, they had to be registered with that archaic Indian Act in order to get services,” she said. “We said that is wrong.”
No other child’s cultural identity is determined by the Canadian government, she said, adding it should be left to children and families.
The government has until Dec. 25 to file an appeal should it wish to, Ms. Blackstock said, but she added that filing a judicial review on giving more children help in the middle of a pandemic “would really be a Grinch thing to do.”
Mr. Miller said Friday in the House of Commons that the government welcomes the decision and his department is reviewing it.
“We look forward to the implementation of this definition that expands the definition of First Nations children, which is so important to closing the socio-economic gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous children,” he said.
Mr. Miller also cited government spending, including in the last federal budget $1.2-billion, as part of efforts to help close that gap.
In an interview, Ms. Blaney said she is pleased the government is reviewing the tribunal’s order but she said she hopes it will take appropriate action.
“Whenever we ask these questions, they always talk about how much money they’ve invested,” she said. “But they don’t talk about the issue of justice.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced more than $542-million in funding to help Indigenous communities establish their own child and family services systems.
Ottawa says a historic piece of legislation, which came into force last January, recognized the right for Indigenous people to care for their own children while laying out cross-Canada standards, such as the best interests of the child.
Ms. Blaney said the fact the legislation did not specify the need for equitable funding will always be a concern for her. She said that she’s heard from numerous communities that want to “get on” with this work but they don’t have the resources required.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.