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This article was published 7/10/2019 (305 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Saturday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was asked by a reporter if his promise of $1.8 billion to provide clean drinking water to all First Nations in Canada constituted a "blank cheque for all problems for all Indigenous communities across the country."
Singh, who was campaigning in Grassy Narrows First Nation at the time — a community suffering from mercury contamination in their water since the 1960s — immediately asked the reporter if Canadians would ask the same question if Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal or Edmonton had a drinking water problem.
"It’s a lot of money," the reporter responded, "people will look at it and go: how much money are we going to spend on all of this?"
"No, you wouldn’t," Singh said. "That’s what I’m saying. Why is it that we ask the question about whether or not Indigenous people should have clean drinking water? We’ve got to take a minute and think why is that even a question. Yes, they deserve clean drinking water."
Now it may be easy for the NDP or the Greens — who arguably have the most progressive policies surrounding First Nations this election (announcing on Sunday a plan for First Nations to "opt" out of the Indian Act) — to make large financial promises as neither will likely form government.
But it may be easiest and cheapest for political parties to just do the right thing.
It’s costly to provide minimal living standards for people living on the lands the Canadian government re–located them to. I get it. It takes money to be humane. In Canada, however, humanity for Indigenous Peoples is negotiable. It’s always been.
It’s costly to provide minimal living standards for people living on the lands the Canadian government re-located them to. I get it. It takes money to be humane.
In Canada, however, humanity for Indigenous Peoples is negotiable. It’s always been.
On Friday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced that his federal government will seek a "judicial review" (a fancy word for appeal) of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) decision to compensate Indigenous children and families for the discrimination they have endured on reserves and led to the apprehension of children into the child welfare system.
The appeal calls the attorney general to set aside the decision and "dismiss" the claim for monetary compensation, "referring the matter back to the tribunal for review."
The CHRT decision, originally made in 2016, has been appealed time and time again by the Trudeau government.
And, before anyone goes rushing to the Conservatives, leader Andrew Scheer announced the day before that he would seek the same "judicial review."
For three years, the federal government has openly admitted that Indigenous children and families are underfunded and under-resourced but has done nothing about it. When pressed on Friday, even Trudeau didn’t argue over the issue of compensation but still appealed the decision. So, why? Because humanity for Indigenous Peoples is negotiable.
The tribunal decision states that Canada must pay every on-reserve First Nations child removed from their family since 2006 for reasons other then abuse $40,000 each. Parents and guardians are additionally compensated $20,000 per child apprehended.
With approximately 54,000 Indigenous children impacted, the cost for compensation is around $2 billion. Add in caregivers and this could be several billion more.
Indigenous children make up more than half of all children in foster care in Canada (87 per cent in Manitoba) and the overwhelming reason is poverty. Indigenous poverty on reserves (and cities, too) is directly due to the Indian Act and hundreds of other Canadian laws.
Indigenous children make up more than half of all children in foster care in Canada (87 per cent in Manitoba) and the overwhelming reason is poverty. Indigenous poverty on reserves (and cities, too) is directly due to the Indian Act and hundreds of other Canadian laws. Substance abuse, sexual and physical abuse, and health problems are a direct result of these same policies — and these aren’t even a part of this decision.
In other words, the tribunal decision is correct. Canada is guilty of creating the circumstances leading tens of thousands of Indigenous children to enter foster care.
But the federal government doesn’t want to pay — especially during a federal election campaign.
So, instead, Canada’s two natural governing parties are happy to pay millions more fighting the decision.
"Canada has spent well over $10 million in legal fees alone," says Cindy Blackstock from the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
Blackstock has led the movement to fund Indigenous children equitably to other Canadian children since 2005. In return, she has been harassed, spied upon and attacked by federal officials — even leading to a $40,000 CHRT decision to compensate her in 2015.
The federal government fighting Indigenous Peoples over equity is nothing new.
The federal government fighting Indigenous Peoples over equity is nothing new. Canada spends hundreds of thousands of dollars all the time to fight First Nations individuals who simply want the same life Canadians enjoy.
For example, last summer Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reported that the federal government spent three years and $100,000 in legal fees fighting the family of Josey Willier from Sucker Creek First Nation over $6,000 in teeth braces. In the end, it was a huge waste of Canadian — and taxpayer’s — dollars to fight a fight Canada was going to lose.
Trudeau and Scheer both know they are going to lose the fight to treat Indigenous Peoples inequitably, yet it’s better to have it — and hopefully save votes — then do the right thing.
And, ironically, the right thing would save taxpayers money in the long run.
But humanity for Indigenous Peoples is negotiable. Always.
Just once, I would like some reporter to ask Trudeau or Scheer if they are planning to write a blank cheque to fix all Canadian problems.
The No. 1 problem in Canada is a lack of humanity. It’s an expensive problem and one Canadians continue to pay for. I wonder if leaders from Canada’s two natural governing parties will ever pay, too. Because the bill is yours and mine for injustice.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.
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