by Amy Romer
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society says “Canada” has failed to properly implement Jordan’s Principle and families trying to apply for support are facing a dire backlog.
The organization has filed 1,000 pages of evidence to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal supporting a non-compliance motion against the federal government for failing on its promise of timely access to health care for First Nations children.
An affidavit from executive director Cindy Blackstock filed on January 12th says the federal government has allowed problems to “fester to crisis levels” with First Nations children paying the price. The Caring Society is asking the Human Rights Tribunal to order the federal government to take various actions to address the pileup of Jordan’s Principle requests.
In October 2023, the federal court approved a $23.34 billion Final Settlement Agreement (FSA) on compensation for First Nations children and families who experienced discrimination because of “Canada’s” flawed and inequitable provision of the First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS), and the improper implementation of Jordan’s Principle.
The FSA stems from several Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings, one of which, made in 2016, ordered the federal government “to cease applying its narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle and to take measures to immediately implement its full meaning and scope.”
“Canada has got to show us that it will obey legal orders,” said Blackstock, who is Gitxsan.
In a letter dated December 17, Christopher Rupar, counsel for the attorney general of “Canada” responded to the Caring Society’s motion by saying that success “is evident from the recently concluded landmark negotiated settlement on compensation in this matter.” But Blackstock says the only way a child or family can be compensated is if they’ve already been victimized, and “the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal still has to ensure future discrimination doesn’t happen.”
Jordan’s Principle works to ensure First Nations children can access healthcare and the social and educational services they need, when needed.
The child-first principle derives from Jordan River Anderson, a boy from Norway House Cree Nation in “Manitoba” who was born with multiple disabilities. He lived in a hospital for more than two years because federal and provincial governments couldn’t agree on who would pay for his at-home care.
In 2001, during his time in hospital, Jordan’s family, First Nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and health care providers began advocating for the government to put Jordan first and provide the care he needed. At age five, Jordan died in hospital, his case unresolved, sparking a movement to uphold human rights for all First Nations children through the creation of Jordan’s Principle.
In her recent affidavit, Blackstock said, “I promised [Jordan’s] family that I would do everything I could to ensure that Jordan’s Principle was honoured so that no other child had to suffer as he did. Eighteen years later, I am still trying to keep that promise.”
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) — the federal body whose role it is to process Jordan’s Principle requests — has been denying families requests it views as “income supplements,” according to the Caring Society.
The Jordan’s Principle Handbook says “Canada” must ensure “a decision on individual requests for supports and services for First Nations children within 12-48 hours of receiving a completed request.”
Instead, the Caring Society has found thousands of unopened email requests — something Blackstock said her organization learned about from a First Nations service provider instead of the government itself. Further, ISC has failed to provide timeframes for determination and payment, leaving families seeking alternative for-profit solutions at their own cost, according to the Caring Society.
“It’s a hardship for families,” said Blackstock.
According to Blackstock, it costs $538 to review a Jordan’s Principle request. One way to speed up the system, she said, would be to automatically approve all eligible requests under $500. “They’d immediately save themselves $38 a go.”
ISC’s 24-hour phone line often goes unanswered, according to the Caring Society, and callers experience long delays in callbacks, even for urgent cases. They’ve also witnessed Jordan’s Principle “plugging holes” in other under-funded programs, such as education and transportation, and want to see the federal government address the gaps.
In an attempt to address these challenges, the Caring Society, the Assembly of First Nations, and Canada (the Parties involved in the Class Action FSA on Compensation) agreed on a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to Jordan’s Principle in early 2022.
The approach includes reducing the administrative burden on families through lighter documentation requirements for urgent requests and presumes parents or guardians are acting in a child’s best interest with a request that is specific to their needs. The approach should make requests easier to resolve and for ISC to comply with Tribunal orders, ensuring change can trickle down and be fully realized by children and families.
However, The Caring Society says they’re still not seeing improvement from ISC.
“First Nations are running into deficits, putting up the money themselves,” said Blackstock.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is expected to hear the case in April or May, and a case conference is scheduled to take place on January 23.