Reserves that assert CFS autonomy not guaranteed tribunal-ordered funding: Ottawa

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OTTAWA — The federal government says it won’t be bound by child-welfare funding obligations for reserves that assert their autonomy over foster care. Ottawa is instead asking First Nations to trust they will get enough cash.

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This article was published 04/02/2021 (556 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The federal government says it won’t be bound by child-welfare funding obligations for reserves that assert their autonomy over foster care. Ottawa is instead asking First Nations to trust they will get enough cash.

The stance could imperil moves by Manitoba chiefs to form their own child and family services systems.

It’s the latest development in a legal battle dating to 2007. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2016 Ottawa had been racist in its underfunding of CFS on reserves, compared with spending for other Canadian children.

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said that the whole idea of devolution is to ensure Indigenous leaders have the resources to look after children in care. He said the funding compelled by the tribunal is just the starting point. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The tribunal has issued multiple orders, compelling Ottawa to provide adequate funding and social services to First Nations children. The case spurred legislation that took effect in January 2020 to allow First Nations to take over foster care, known as Bill C-92.

A year later, officials at Indigenous Services Canada say reserves that assert their autonomy will not be guaranteed the CFS funding arrangements compelled by the tribunal.

“Since (Bill C-92) falls outside of the scope of the CHRT orders, the CHRT orders will not apply to a First Nation that has assumed jurisdiction,” reads a Jan. 29 email to Cindy Blackstock, an advocate leading the tribunal case.

In 2019, advocates testified to Parliament that Bill C-92 would not be effective if it did not promise specific funding formulas, though Ottawa insisted it was better to negotiate these with First Nations as they gain jurisdiction.

Manitoba senators nearly kiboshed the legislation over concerns it did not respond to the needs of First Nations and Métis in the province.

ISC Minister Marc Miller said that the whole idea of devolution is to ensure Indigenous leaders have the resources to look after children in care. He said the funding compelled by the tribunal is just the starting point.

“Financial supports are part and parcel of those discussions,” Miller said Thursday, in response to questions from the Free Press.

Miller said the tribunal orders “have been framed around fixing a problem that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.”

Valerie Gideon, a senior executive for ISC, added the government wants to move away from a system that has Ottawa reimbursing expenses bands have incurred, and instead let them set sustainable, long-term budgets and priorities.

Manitoba southern Grand Chief Jerry Daniels was skeptical, given the tribunal has ordered the Trudeau government multiple times to respect its rulings.

“We’re definitely not convinced; we’ve waited long enough here,” said Daniels, who leads the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.

He was also concerned Bill C-92 is creating confusion.

The SCO has been years into a process of restructuring the CFS system it runs alongside the provincial government, while individual bands are now seeking autonomy.

Daniels feared this will mean more taxpayer dollars going to lawyers and consultants, instead of vulnerable children.

“They’ve really opened up a can of worms with this,” he said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Email chain on child-welfare funding obligations in tribunal case

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