|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child first principle, based on Jordan's Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House on Motion No. 296, which calls on the government to immediately adopt a child first principle based on Jordan's principle.
The motion is truly about ending discrimination against first nations children. I appreciate the fact that when we last had the debate in the House all parties spoke favourably about the motion. I am hopeful that when we have finished with the debate all parties will again speak in favour. Actually, because it is a private member's motion, I am hopeful that each member in the House will support the motion and that we can then call on the government to actually move forward to implement some meaningful action.
I want to acknowledge a number of people who have worked so hard on bringing Jordan's principle to the forefront for all Canadians. I specifically want to acknowledge Jordan and his family. Jordan's family has been unbelievably courageous in having Jordan's principle come forward and stand for all first nations children in the country.
I also want to acknowledge the good work done by Norway House Cree Nation and the Kinosao Sipi Minisowin Agency, which works specifically with first nations children with special needs.
I want to acknowledge the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. I also want to acknowledge Amnesty International.
There are many other organizations as well. I believe that well over 400 organizations have now signed on in support of Jordan's principle. There are many people who are working on behalf of Jordan's principle and on behalf of first nations children across the country.
I want to talk a little about Jordan's story because I think it is an important story and I think it also puts a face to the realities of what we are talking about.
Jordan was born in 1999 with a complex set of genetic disorders. Because of a lack of services on reserve, Jordan's family had to make the very difficult decision of surrendering Jordan to provincial care in order to get the medical care he needed.
Jordan spent the first two years of his life in hospital. Once he was stabilized, he could have gone into a specialized foster home. For the next two years, the federal and provincial governments argued over who should pay for Jordan's foster home costs. Sadly, at the end of those two years, Jordan passed away. This little boy, this very special little boy, spent his entire life in a hospital setting, never knowing what many of us, each and every one of us, take for granted at some point our lives: to live in a family home, to be cared for by parents, to have siblings and to do all the kinds of things that we think are just the normal course of events.
It is sad to say that this came down to arguments about who should pay. In case anybody thinks this is an isolated case, let me note that there are numerous cases across the country where first nations children are actively being discriminated against because neither the federal nor the provincial governments, and there is a variety of provincial governments, put children first
Before I talk about a couple of those cases, I want to point out the fact that Jordan has been nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize of 2007. He has been nominated because of the recognition of the fact that Jordan has become a symbol for those children who have no other voice.
In the nomination papers, Cindy Blackstock said that a “research report indicates that jurisdictional disputes involving the costs of caring for First Nations children are very prevalent” with 393 of these disputes occurring in 12 of the 105 first nations child and family service agencies sampled in the study during 2004-05 alone. The report states:
|| The vast majority of those disputes were between two federal government departments or between the federal government and the provincial-territorial government.
She goes on to say, which is very poignant, “Jordan could not talk and yet people around the world hear his message. Jordan could not breathe on his own and yet he has given the breath of life to other children. Jordan could not walk but he has taken steps that the government are just now learning to follow”. She says, “He is a child who really did change the world by ensuring the rights of children come before the conveniences of government; all this, and he was only five years old”.
I am hopeful that on December 16 we will hear that Jordan actually was the successful International Children's Peace Prize.
We have had a number of other cases, and I want to mention a couple of them.
Scott Fraser, the NDP MLA for Alberni—Qualicum, raised the issue of Alica-Anne from Ahousaht, who was born deaf and has a cochlea implant. She is expected to lose her sight within the next few years. She needed some particular intervention so she could learn to speak and hear before she went blind.
The provincial government indicated that it was prepared to fund this case but, in the larger issue, there is no question that it remains a challenge. It is an active part of our ongoing discussion with INAC. It would deal with this one case and yet we know there are cases after cases across this country where children are simply not put first.
A news release in June 2006, and I know the is well aware of this case, was about a little boy named MacKenzie Olsen who needed some very expensive drugs and was part of a drug trial. When the drug trial ended, so did his medication. The Calgary Health Region had agreed in 2005 to cover 40% of the treatments. However, in June 2006 no one came forward to pick up the rest of the tab. In this case, the drug could only be administered in hospital. The company said, “It is our understanding that there is no distinction in the Canada Health Act between first nations and non-first nations patients that would impact the purchase by a hospital of a therapy to be administered in that hospital. Contrary to the recent media reports, the first nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada does not pay for hospital administered drugs. Hospitals pay for them directly”.
The sticking point in this piece is that because MacKenzie returned home in between hospital treatments to the reserve, the provincial government did not want to pay through the hospital system for this child's drugs. In 2006, a year after we had originally raised this issue with the then Liberal minister of health, this little boy still did not have his drugs.
In the newspapers this week, on October 29, we have another case where a grandmother in Manitoba is being asked to surrender her grandson to the care of Child and Family Services just simply so he can go to school. It is a jurisdictional dispute that is simply not putting first nations children first.
A number of other provinces have identified the fact that there are some discrepancies in how first nations children are funded.
We currently have a case where the Assembly of First Nations has filed a Canadian human rights complaint about the lack of funding for first nations children and welfare. The Assembly of First Nations statistics show that there are more than 27,000 first nations children in state care.
The recent 2006-07 annual report of the Alberta auditor general notes:
|| However, funding provided by INAC may not be sufficient to allow Agencies to provide comparable services to those available to other Alberta children.
|| Aboriginal children make up 55% of Alberta’s children in protection, yet make up only about 15% of all Alberta’s children. First Nations are eager to attain sufficient resources to provide equal and comparable services as those available to other Alberta children.
In that case, we have a provincial government saying that the federal government clearly is not stepping up to the plate in terms of its responsibilities for first nations children.
In case we also think that there is only isolated support and that it is coming only from first nations communities or the people who are primarily involved in caring for these children, we have a quote from the Canadian Paediatric Society. They have been advocating for more than a year:
||--for the federal and provincial/ territorial governments to adopt Jordan's Principle, a child-first principle to resolving jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children....
The Canadian Medical Association Journal states in an article:
||--if the provincial, territorial and federal governments ignore Jordan's Principle and entangle themselves in financial or jurisdictional battles first, then governments deserve to be sued, in the most winnable test case that First Nations' advocates can manage.
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada states:
|| The provincial and federal governments' jurisdictional debate could be characterized as a shirking of responsibilities that amounts to inequitable treatment of First Nations and is therefore in violation of section 15 of the Charter.
As well, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has passed a resolution. I will not read the whole resolution. It states:
|| THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, That the AMC...support AFN/FNCCS Human Rights complaint through a lobbying and negotiation strategy to address the chronic underfunding causing discriminatory treatment of First Nation children by the federal government.
I think it is fairly clear that what we have is a case where first nations children simply do not have the rights that other children living off reserve have. I think each and every one of us would fully expect that children who require particular care, who have special needs and who need access to education would have access to the things that children off reserve simply take for granted.
Unfortunately, we have also been cited on the international scene. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child said that overall Canada is at number six, but when we look at aboriginal children in Canada and their socio-economic status we actually drop to number 78. We rank between Lebanon and Kazakhstan.
That is a shame. That, I would say, is verging on criminal. It is verging on criminal that we have children in this country who are living in such dire straits that a United Nations convention cites Canada's very poor track record. I think that if most Canadians were aware of this they would be urging the federal government to put children first.
I think the words of the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine say it far better than any of us could say it. He said:
|| The motion asks a simpl[e] question: Do Canadians accept the fact that their health system treats certain children differently because of the race or community they belong to? And further, do Canadians accept that this double standard can result in death or disability?
|| This practice should not be allowed to exist or be accepted as a normal business practice. We must stand together to protect and nurture the health and well-being of all children across Canada.
In conclusion, with respect to Jordan and his family and all of the organizations and the people who are working so tirelessly on behalf of Jordan's principle, I would ask members of the House to unanimously support the motion.
If the motion should pass, I would call upon the Conservative government to use its huge surplus to put children first, to put first nations children on reserve first, so that in a year's time we can stand up in the House, celebrate the successes and talk about the fact that Canada has a proud record of saying that children come first.
I urge members to support Jordan's principle.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I fully support the intent of the motion introduced by the hon. member for .
Let me say first, though, that in response to my previous question about consultation, I do not understand why consultation is needed to provide people with human rights. It is a self-evident truth. I hope the other parties that disagree will reconsider their position so that we can move forward with the repeal of section 67.
To talk specifically to Jordan's principle, let me say that it appears to offer a straightforward solution to the provision of health services to first nations and Inuit children, but it is a complex problem. At present, a maze of administrative and funding procedures across governments compounds how these services are provided. Although the procedures may be rooted in good intentions, in practice they subordinate the interests of the child.
Jordan's principle calls on all government agencies to provide the services first and resolve the paperwork later. This government supports Jordan's principle and is committed to making improvements in the lives of first nations and Inuit children, women and families. I call upon my colleagues across governments to work together.
The need among first nations and Inuit children is both obvious and acute, particularly given that the level of disability among first nations and Inuit children is high and access to care is impeded by geographic location and limited services in rural and remote areas and isolated communities.
This government will continue to take action in an effort to improve the health of first nations and Inuit people of all ages. The programs and investments now in place aim to address the particular health problems of first nations and Inuit.
I believe that a basic understanding of programs and investments aimed at first nations and Inuit children and families will help my hon. colleagues appreciate why this government supports Jordan's principle.
As we all recognize, there is considerable truth to the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. The saying rings particularly true when it comes to the health of toddlers, infants and newborns.
The links between a mother's health during pregnancy and the health of her baby are well established. For example, mothers who eat nutritious diets, abstain from tobacco and alcohol, and exercise regularly are far more likely to give birth to healthy babies. Similarly, toddlers exposed to stable, nurturing and stimulating environments are far more likely to succeed at school and remain healthy.
To ensure that first nations and Inuit children can realize the benefits of these linkages, this government funds a series of prevention-based programs and initiatives.
The Canada prenatal nutrition program, CPNP, is a community-based program with the goal of improving maternal and infant nutritional health, with a particular focus on those at high risk. CPNP supports activities related to maternal nourishment, including food vouchers and community kitchens, screening, education and counselling, and breastfeeding promotion and support.
Through CPNP an estimated 9,000 first nations and Inuit women participate in the program at approximately 450 project sites, which serve more than 600 communities. The release of a new food guide that has been tailored to reflect the unique values, traditions and food choices of aboriginal populations in Canada will be a valuable tool for CPNP and in assisting aboriginal families to make informed, healthy choices while respecting their traditional way of life.
Another relevant initiative is the maternal child health program, which began two years ago. This program will improve health outcomes for first nations women, children and families by delivering programs that aim to improve their parenting skills, manage post-partum depression, and create safe, enriching environments for their children.
There are two aspects to this program: in-home visits and case management services. The program connects mothers and families with the service and support they need to raise healthy and happy children. Currently, there are 63 maternal children health projects.
The first few years of a child's life are critical to his or her development. To ensure that first nations families have access to stimulating and culturally relevant child care and preschool programs, this program funds the aboriginal head start on reserve, or AHSOR, program. This year, 9,400 children will attend some 332 AHSOR programs across Canada. The programs are designed, delivered and administered by local first nations communities.
Although the programs vary by region, they are focused on six components: education, nutrition, culture and language, social support, health promotion and parental involvement. In addition, the aboriginal head start on reserve community based programs support children with special needs by assisting their parents in identifying the resources available within their communities. The number of children with special needs participating in AHSOR programs continues to increase. Some 6.4% of the total number of children participating in the 2004-05 years had an identified special need.
The benefits of the aboriginal head start programs are well documented. Children who attend AHSOR programs learn to socialize within their peers and are better prepared to succeed at school. They also learn the importance of a nutritious diet and regular physical activity. Given these benefits, this government was proud to invest more than $57 million in AHSOR programs last year.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is also a complex issue with little epidemiological information in Canada. Health Canada's programs strive to build awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and to provide targeting interventions for women at risk of having a child with FASD. It also trains teachers and health professionals to identify children with FASD and provide appropriate assistance to children and families, such as early diagnosis and intervention.
The programs I have mentioned are just a few of the many concrete examples of how this government is working to improve the health of first nations and Inuit children and families. This government continues to meet its responsibilities to fund the delivery of health services to first nations and Inuit.
In 2006-07, the Government of Canada spent approximately $850 million on the non-insured health benefits program alone. This program provides registered Indians and recognized Inuit with a wide range of medically necessary goods and services which supplement the benefits provided through other private, provincial or territorial programs.
The benefits funded under the non-insured health benefits program include: prescription drugs, dental and vision care, medical supplies and equipment, crisis mental health counselling, and medical transportation to access medically necessary services.
In order to address the rapid cost increases facing first nations and Inuit health services, we are increasing the budget for first nations and Inuit health by 6.4% over last year. This represents an increase in funding for first nations and Inuit health services of approximately $126 million, for a total of $2.1 billion this year. This is very comparable to the provincial increases in transfers.
Included in the budget is $15 million to work with first nations and Inuit, as well as to help other levels of government throughout Canada provide innovation and strengthen tripartite relationships. This government has demonstrated that it is taking action and that first nations people, young and old, will be better served by a Conservative government.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to once again speak to this private member's motion put forward by the NDP member for . I would like to thank her as well on behalf of Norway House Cree Nation and Jordan's family for bringing this to the House.
I had the special opportunity this past summer to share with the family and community as they acknowledged the member for her efforts. It is an understatement to say that it is deeply appreciated.
To stand here in the House of Commons is a privilege. It is also a privilege to speak to the legacy of a boy whose life was far too short and of the pain that he endured during his life as well as the pain and the hardship his family had to endure while seeking to care for their child who required access to health services on reserve. If this child, who was living on a first nation reserve, had been living anywhere else in Canada he would have been able to access these services.
Jordan was born with a rare syndrome. What happened subsequently, when his family sought services, is typical of the cases for children with special needs on reserve. The family sought the services for their child through the federal health care provider, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, which delivers primary health care. This service did not fall within the spectrum of services provided.
The only means available to the family for the child's health service requirement was to take the child to the children's special services and give up the child to the child and family services agency, funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. To clarify, the child with complex medical needs or a disability living on a first nation reserve is not entitled to essential services unless his or her family gives up guardianship to a child welfare agency.
This situation gets worse. The child welfare agency is also forced to seek the service on a case by case basis, and depending upon the nature of the service, a dispute may ensue between the two federal departments: Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
In Jordan's case it was between the federal and provincial jurisdictions. Jordan was forced into care and also required hospitalization for his medical services. When he was two years old, his family received the good news that Jordan could go home from the hospital. He would require some essential services back home at Norway House Cree Nation. Neither government would agree to pay for these services.
If he were to reside off reserve, the provincial government would have funded the services. Under federal jurisdiction, the status Indian children residing on reserve are not entitled through any of their programs to the services Jordan required.
This interdepartmental and jurisdictional battle waged on for more than two years until, sadly and tragically, Jordan passed away in the hospital. He was never able to return home in his short life. It is unbelievable that this could happen in our country. It is intolerable and incomprehensible that Jordan's story is not unique or rare.
In my riding of Churchill, the first nations child welfare agencies of Awasis agency, Cree Nation child and family caring agency, Opaskwayak Cree Nation child and family services, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation family and community services, and the Kinisao Sipi Minisowin agency have worked with families and children over the past two decades.
There are hundreds of children in my riding who are in this situation. It has been through the efforts of these child and family service agencies, these families, and these groups and organizations, like Norway House Cree Nation, the first nations child and family caring society, and our political first nations organizations that these issues have been raised over and over again through different forums.
We need to act in a non-partisan, non-judgmental way to ensure that Jordan's principle is implemented in Canada. The Jordan principle is simply about putting the child first. It is the child-first principle.
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. This convention has been recognized by the Supreme Court of the Canada as one of the most universally accepted human rights instruments. Yet the lack of coordination between and within the federal, provincial and territorial governments has meant that this principle of the safety and well-being of the child being paramount has most often been superceded by jurisdictional and departmental disputes.
It was recommended in the Wen:de report of the first nations child and family caring society that a “child first” principle be adopted whereby the government who receives a request for payment of services for a first nations child will pay without disruption or delay when these services are otherwise available to children residing off reserve in similar circumstances.
It was recognized by the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Disabled Persons in 1993 that all levels of government had forgotten the needs of aboriginal people which was demonstrated through the fragmentation of services, lack of strong program structures and inconsistent standards.
It was resolved by the Assembly of First Nations in a resolution in December 2005 that the federal and provincial governments adopt a child first principle for resolving these jurisdictional disputes regarding payment for services for status Indian children. This resolution stated:
|| WHEREAS Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every resident of Canada equal benefit and protection of law without discrimination;
I would like to reiterate that there is no funding mechanism to deliver services for children residing on first nation reserves. The federal departments responsible for services and programs on first nation reserves, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the first nations and Inuit health branch, volley the issue back and forth claiming either that it is a social cost or it is a health cost, and the provinces will not provide services on reserve. They claim simply that it is not in their jurisdiction.
I had the opportunity to rise last week to commemorate the family and their courage when they honoured the life of their child, Jordan. They honoured his life in their home community when they were able to put up a headstone for Jordan. It has been a very challenging and very tragic situation for the family.
I commend them for their courage for letting their story be told, for allowing Jordan's life to inspire all of us to work in a non-partisan way, so that first nations children who have complex medical needs or live with disabilities are one day, and we hope that it happens in a timely manner, able to access services that all other Canadian children can access.
I would like to add that the inference by the Conservatives that the opposition parties do not support human rights for first nations is an abomination. It is a misuse of the House because we are talking about the lives of children. First nations children are living without services that other Canadian children have access to.
In my home community, we have almost 40 children. The inference that smoking or alcohol consumption is the cause of these disabilities by the previous member was also just abhorrent. We have been struggling with a hydro development and there are all sorts of toxins now. There is a mercury issue as well. When a community which has only thousands of people and there are rare syndromes occurring in that community, to target and blame the community is just unbelievable. We are talking about a critical issue that affects the lives of children on first nation reserves.
I call upon this House to drop these judgments, to drop these false accusations, and to remember that it is the life and well-being of children we are talking about. Canada signed the United Nations convention on the rights of children and that applies to all Canadian children.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today about Jordan's principle. I would like to thank my colleague from for bringing the motion before the House. It seems very important under the circumstances.
I will start by saying that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the motion of my NDP colleague in principle. So, I will rise to share my views. For those listening who do not understand what we are talking about, I will say that Jordan's principle is one of the greatest examples of discrimination against First Nations peoples on reserves.
I have been researching Jordan's principle in preparation for my speech in this House, because I knew this motion would be put forward. I consulted the Canadian Medical Association, which addressed the issue in its August 2007 editorial. This was not 100 years ago, but August 2007. The title of the article can be found on the web site of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, or CMAJ. There is a very interesting article, dated August 14, 2007, called “Jordan's Principle, governments' paralysis”.
I will not repeat what my colleague from said about the facts of this case, but the facts are that young Jordan of the Norway House Cree Nation lived on a reserve in northern Manitoba and was unable to get proper care because the provincial, municipal and other governments passed the buck back and forth.
This is what the editorial says. I will quote directly from that text to avoid any ambiguity.
|| Canada is a party to the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that states: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.
The treaty does not say, “may be a primary consideration” but “shall be a primary consideration”.
I will continue reading:
|| Jordan’s interests fell a distant second; intergovernmental squabbling over the duty to pay came first. Canada contravened this treaty. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination. Many of the services Jordan needed would be paid for without question for a white Manitoban, or off-reserve Aboriginal resident. It was Jordan’s living on-reserve that caused the bureaucracy to choke. That is discrimination pure and simple.
|| Canada’s constitution recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights. The Supreme Court in 1984 declared “the Government has the responsibility to act in a fiduciary capacity with respect to aboriginal peoples,” in a relationship that “is trust-like, rather than adversarial”. One wonders how this obligation was met by the bureaucrats who allowed Jordan to live and then die in the Winnipeg hospital far from his loved ones, while the adversarial turf war raged.
We endorse putting the medical needs of First Nations’ children first. This seems rather evident to me, yet it also seems extremely complicated.
I have here in my hands a fine document produced by our fine government. It is a 2007 publication entitled “Are We Doing Enough?” It is a status report on Canadian public policy and child and youth health, published by the Canadian Pediatric Society. This is the 2007 report. Page 24 of this document—and I did not write it—talks about Jordan's principle. It repeats what I just said about how this child was left to die.
I read that none of the provinces and territories is doing enough and they all have a negative side, except Nova Scotia. Here is what is said about British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba—where Jordan's case originated, not all that long ago—Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. None of those provinces and territories has introduced a child-first policy to resolving jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children and youth.
Today, in 2007, another case similar to Jordan's could easily arise and we would be in the same situation as the one that left poor Jordan abandoned, when municipal, provincial and federal bureaucrats were too busy bickering amongst themselves.
The Bloc Québécois' position is this: we agree that we must take into account what is going on. Take, for example, Quebec's Youth Protection Act, which says that when dealing with children, authorities must take into account a number of factors and considerations, including the characteristics of aboriginal communities. This shows how important it is for governments to hold consultations with first nations. We must do everything in our power to ensure that this kind of thing never happens again.
In 1986, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Erasmus-Dussault Commission, submitted a report. Nothing has happened. Nobody has done anything. The issue is a simple one. Who should pay? It is always about money. Starting now, we should stop asking that question. Instead, we should be asking whether a child needs services. We can worry about the bill later. That is what we have to do. Bureaucrats have to take a totally different approach and start by admitting that there are no federal-provincial agreements. We have to make children in aboriginal communities our priority. We can fight over the bill later. The point is that this kind of thing should not be happening in 2007.
I would take things even farther than that. I would invite my colleagues in the House to see Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie's latest film, Le peuple invisible. It is now 2007 and we still have serious problems. We could end up with another Jordan case if we do not take this initiative seriously. I think we should proceed with the motion introduced by my colleague from .
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud tonight to rise with my colleague from to speak to the need for Parliament to adopt the Jordan principle.
Last year we had the great privilege to travel across the great territories of the Nishnawbe-Aski people to participate in the remembrance of Treaty 9. We took a boat up the Albany River about 100 kilometres to an isolated spot where 100 years before, the commissioners came to sign a treaty with the people of Ogoki Post.
At that meeting, like so many other meetings, we asked this question. What was there to celebrate in a treaty that brought so much misery to these people and where lie after lie was enacted?
During that celebration a man stepped forward. We were in a kind of little wooded area with a campfire. He said that he would like to speak to the dignitaries who were here. He spoke in his native language and a young student came forward to translate. He said, “I apologize. I never learned to speak English”.
He said that when the school commissioners came, they took his sister. His sister never came home and they never heard from her again. She went off to a residential school and nobody ever came back to tell the community what happened to that little girl. He said that when the school commissioners came the next year, his parents hid him in the bush and he never got an education.
I think of the child who is not remembered by anybody in Canada except by the people in her community. Yet there are so many children like her across Canada. They are the tragic stitches in the terrible quilt that was the residential school situation.
We stand up in Parliament and say that we remember. We will have truth and reconciliation and we will have a payout.
However, I hope I am wrong, but I predict that within my lifetime another Parliament will launch an investigation into the widespread negligent abuse of first nation children across the country. This is taking place right now, every day in every community across the country where first nations children live.
Jordan is not an unnamed child. He becomes a symbol of so many children who are lost in foster care, who are not given adequate medical services and who are not given the most basic education support.
In fact, in the Ontario Human Rights Code every child is guaranteed access to special needs programming if they need it. That is unless they are first nations because the federal government pays for that. We work on the principle, with our first nations schools, that in every province they have to meet provincial standards. Of course they should meet provincial standards, but here is the kicker. They get paid according to federal standards and the federal standards are abysmal.
Just two weeks ago we had two teachers in northwestern Ontario in the Nishnawbe-Aski territory on a hunger strike to try to raise attention over the need for special education dollars, but they did not get much attention with all the hullabaloo that goes on in Parliament. Nary a question has been raised about the fact that people are waging hunger strikes to get education dollars.
I would like to focus tonight on giving the people back home an example of how things are done or how things are not done in Indian country. I would like to give the example of Attawapiskat school, and I will describe the school. About 400 students are in that school and it sits on a badly contaminated toxic site of something like 30,000 litres. Year after year the children were getting sick. They finally asked INAC to do an investigation and they found out they were sitting on perhaps the most toxic site in northern Ontario. Did INAC pull the children? Of course not. We needed more studies. Therefore, we had to have study after study.
As a former school board trustee on the Northeast Catholic School Board, if we had any questions of health, the school would be shut down immediately and the students pulled out, but not in Attawapiskat, not until the parents took action and pulled the students out.
That was seven years ago. We have had three Indian Affairs ministers commit to that community that a school would be built, and no school has been built. The kicker again is this community is not asking for a handout.
The community does not want to go with the low standards that INAC has, the crappy standards for building schools that INAC insists on every first nation. It wants a school that meets the proper standards of the province of Ontario. It wants proper class sizes. It wants a school that is big enough to hold the expected 600 students. The community does not want to wait for the federal government. It went to the bank to get its own financing because it actually has an excellent financial track record.
Of course we brought this to Indian Affairs because we thought it was a no-brainer. We thought this was a win-win story. The has said that a school is needed there. It is amazing that the community has to go to the bank for its own financing. The only hitch is it needs Indian affairs to sign off on the tuition agreements so that the bank deal can flow. The former Minister of Indian Affairs signed off on that, but nothing happened.
In November 2005 I sat with the Indian affairs minister and we hammered out an agreement with the head of the regional office for Ontario. I actually looked it up in the paper. Chief Mike Carpenter went to the school to tell the students and they were all yelling for joy because they had brought home an agreement to build that school.
Well, there is no school. We have had two other Indian affairs ministers. Another one signed off on the agreement. The latest we understand is that it is now at the preliminary project approval stage. That means they are nowhere in getting this school built because Indian affairs continues the pattern of systemic negligence toward the most vulnerable, our young. We simply need someone to sign off on this agreement. The banks and the community will do the rest.
Attawapiskat is sitting on what is now one of the richest diamond deposits in the western world. It took four years to get that mine up and running. There was hurdle after hurdle. There was no problem for the federal government and the province to get that diamond mine up and running in the most isolated region in the province of Ontario. We could get the permits. That is good, because in northern Ontario we support mineral development and we hope that this mine will employ first nations people. It can be a positive story.
It is amazing when we juxtapose the phenomenal riches of the Victor diamond mine with the abysmal poverty that is in Attawapiskat.
We have to ask why is it that they could discover diamonds in a place as isolated as the Mushkegowuk Cree territory. Infrastructure was put in place and cost was no object. The federal government and the province was ready to sign whatever had to be signed to get that mine up and running. Meanwhile, the greatest single resource that we have in northern Ontario, our young people, were left sitting on top of a toxic contaminated site. Nobody so far has come forward from the regional office of INAC to sign that agreement, even though we have a commitment from the minister and a commitment from the director general of Ontario.
What we are seeing in Attawapiskat is what we see every single day across first nation territories in Canada. It is a disgrace. Let us just call it for what it is. We need some accountability. We need to set some standards. We need to start making some things happen so that the next generation will not ask how this could have been allowed to happen, how could people have sat back and said, “Who cares”.