Eighty per cent of Canadian MPs agree: the federal government must stop fighting First Nations people and start supporting them to heal and live healthy lives after decades of government oppression.
But advocates are concerned the call was undermined by the fact that 66 Liberal MPs didn’t vote, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the entire cabinet.
Coming in the wake of the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, an opposition motion from New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh called on the Liberal government to uphold its commitments to First Nations.
Specifically, the motion demands the Liberal government drop its court appeal against compensating First Nations children and families hurt by inequitable federal funding for child and family services and health care on reserves and in the Yukon.
The federal government is set to return to the Federal Court of Appeal June 14 to 18 to fight a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal compensation order that would provide $40,000 each to 165,000 First Nations children removed from their families for reasons other than abuse or had their medical treatment denied or delayed by the government. The children’s guardians would receive an additional $20,000 for each of their children put into care.
The government is also fighting a tribunal order at the appeal court that would extend coverage of Jordan’s Principle — a policy that ensures that whatever government receives a medical bill for a First Nations child is the one to pay for it — to First Nations children who are not registered as “Indians” under the Indian Act.
While the government accepted the original tribunal decision in January 2016, which called on the government to equitably fund on-reserve and Yukon First Nations child and family services, the tribunal has since filed 19 non-compliance orders.
Singh’s motion also calls for the accelerated implementation of the 94 Calls to Action of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission; the provision of residential school survivors, their families and communities with resources to heal and move on; and a meeting with the survivors of the St. Anne’s Indian Residential School, the Peetabeck Keyway Keykaywin Association, to help them get justice after the government withheld tens of thousands of documents they required to be eligible for federal compensation.
On Monday afternoon, members of Parliament from all four major political parties and Independent members voted in favour of the motion, with no one voting against.
However, Victoria NDP MP Laurel Collins, who is on maternity leave, and 66 Liberal MPs out of 154 did not vote, including Trudeau, every cabinet minister and B.C. MPs Hedy Fry and Randeep Sarai.
The motion, which demands a progress plan from the government on these actions within 10 days of the passing, is not binding.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, noted on Twitter that the motion can still be used to hold the federal government to account.
It was Blackstock, along with the Assembly of First Nations, who brought the original human rights complaint against the federal government over the inequitable funding of services to the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2007.
In a Twitter statement, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde spoke of feeling “encouraged” by the vote, but “deeply concerned” over the prime minister and cabinet’s refusal to vote.
Six years after the release of the 94 Calls to Action, the federal government has yet to create an implementation plan for all actions.
During question period before the vote on the motion, Conservative MP Jamie Schmale asked Indigenous-Crown Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett when an implementation plan for the Calls to Action would be released, noting the government’s own website on the matter has not been updated since 2019.
Bennett claimed over 80 per cent of the calls to action that involve the federal government have been completed or are “well underway.”
She cited the passage of recent bills creating a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation and changing citizenship ceremonies to include an oath to respect the “Aboriginal and treaty rights” of Indigenous people, as well as Bill C-15, currently in a Senate committee review, which calls on government to view all legislation through the lens of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
NDP MP Charlie Angus brought up Trudeau’s denial that the government is fighting in court to deny First Nations’ children compensation.
“In reality, his lawyers are arguing that children who suffered reckless discrimination are not eligible for any compensation whatsoever,” he said. “Children have died on this government’s watch. When is this prime minister going to end his toxic legal war against Indigenous kids?”
Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller responded that any children who have suffered discrimination at the hands of government would “receive fair, equitable and just compensation.”
To which Angus replied, “You’re making that up,” before being reprimanded by the Speaker for heckling.
In response to a post from NDP MP Blake Desjarlais, Blackstock added on Twitter that the true test of the motion’s power is whether the government will proceed with their current tribunal appeals.