Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure tonight to speak to Bill C-92.
Before I get into it, I would like to say a few comments about this morning when I attended, along with our shadow minister, the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report release.
I think we all agree in the House that it is a national tragedy. I was reminded of that this morning when I struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to me. I did not know her, but when we sat down, I noticed that she was holding a 5” x 7” picture of a young girl. I was inquisitive and asked her if she would share her story with me.
The woman was an auntie from Six Nations, and she immediately filled me in on the story. The picture she was holding was of 14-year-old Patricia “Trish” Carpenter from Alderville First Nation. It was 27 years ago, in 1992, when Ms. Carpenter's body was found at a construction site by Yonge Street in Toronto face down. Going further, I found out that Trish Carpenter was a mother of a two-month-old baby boy. The coroner's investigation said that she died of asphyxiation. An inquest later concluded that Trish's death was indeed suspicious.
The national inquiry report stated that indigenous persons, especially first nations, Inuit and Métis women, are overrepresented as victims of this violence. The tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women is one that the Liberal government has failed to adequately address over its three and half years in office. As with that important issue, the Liberals have left the introduction of this important bill, the indigenous child welfare legislation, to the very last minute, which brings me to the topic tonight of Bill C-92.
I started talking about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls because it is directly related to the legislation before us. Many of the victims were part of the failed welfare system, maybe even the woman I was talking to this morning during the release of the report. However, Bill C-92, an act respecting first nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, is a bill that would bring forth important national principles applicable to the provision of child and family services in relation to indigenous children. These principles in relation to the administration of child and family services with respect to indigenous children are in the best interest of the child, would have cultural continuity and certainly substantive equality in this country. These principles are very important. They are pieces of our country's long road towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
However, as important as these principles in the bill are, I should point out that the current Liberal government has introduced the bill at such a late stage in the parliamentary agenda that Parliament will barely have any time to study it at any length at all. We have seen that in committee. It was all crammed, and we had a couple of weeks at the very most to talk about this crucial bill.
We want to make sure that the principles described in the bill are actually reflected in practice, but that task is made more difficult when important bills such as this one, Bill C-92, are tabled so late in the parliamentary calendar with no excuse at all.
The history of the Canadian government's treatment of indigenous child welfare, we all know, is dark and tragic. Through the use of its residential schools, the Canadian government separated generation after generation of indigenous children from their families, their communities, their culture and their way of life. During the sixties scoop, countless numbers of indigenous children were taken away from their families of birth and placed into non-indigenous homes, where they were simply cut off from their cultural background and their ties to their communities. I know several people in Saskatchewan that this happened to. These are just some of the tragedies that have been inflicted on indigenous children in this country.
As Canada moves forward on a path toward reconciliation, it must do so in a way that represents and respects the rights of indigenous peoples and respects their unique cultural heritage. We support the principles that this bill seeks out in relation to the administration of child and family services with respect to indigenous children. As my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo has pointed out many times in this House, in moving forward with the principles of this bill, we are not denying the hard work of social workers, nor are we not acknowledging the families that have adopted children in the past; we are simply pressing on to do better when it comes to this very important issue.
However, in committee, the Minister of Indigenous Services referred to child welfare workers as being participants in “abduction”. Yes, he said that in committee. This kind of language is both inflammatory and very unhelpful. It divides us rather than bringing us together. In this respect, the minister owes the social welfare agencies, including those run by first nations, an apology. Insulting and inflammatory language has no place in any discussions of this important principle that we are putting forth here tonight.
The first of the principles laid out in this bill is the best interest of the child. That is first and foremost. This principle dictates that among other factors, an indigenous child's cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage must be considered in the context of decision-making by child and family services. This principle is crucially important, as child and family services around this country are moving toward a focus on preventive care in order to keep indigenous children in their communities where they can maintain their valuable cultural ties.
According to Indigenous Services Canada, 52.2% of children aged 14 and under who are living under foster care in private homes are indigenous. This statistic shows that indigenous children are extremely overrepresented in child and family services systems across Canada, especially considering that indigenous children make up only 7.7% of the general population of children 14 years of age and under in this country. It is clear that more work needs to be done so that indigenous children can stay in their communities and build everlasting relationships with the members of their community. This bill highlights the need for the administration of child and family services to have a focus on preventive care so that fewer indigenous children end up in foster homes and away from their culture and their community.
Our former Conservative government also recognized the need to focus on preventive care when it came to the provision of child and family services for indigenous children. Among the different concrete steps that we took to develop a prevention-based orientation was the creation of the enhanced prevention-focused approach, better known as EPFA. The start of it was in 2007. This was a reform of the funding model that had been formerly used by the first nations child and family services program.
It took effect immediately in Alberta. Then a year later Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia adopted it. It was subsequently adopted in Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba.
Funding was specifically redirected towards a prevention-based approach in order to keep indigenous children in their communities and to support the self-sufficiency of these communities in a culturally appropriate manner.
The prevention-oriented focus that was put in place by our former Conservative government refocused child welfare services to a family-centred practice with children-centred outcomes. This approach delivered real and positive results towards turning back the trend of increasingly larger numbers of indigenous children being placed in foster care in this country.
During the length of our former Conservative government, the percentage of first nations children on reserve placed in foster care decreased from 89.67% in the first year, which was 2006-07, to 76.08% in the year 2014-15. I think we could all agree we would like it to be zero, but this was a major reduction of over 13%, according to stats gathered by the first nations child and family services program. Over that same time period, the percentages of first nations children placed in kinship care increased from no recorded amount to 17.83% in 2014-15.
Our former Conservative government also increased first nations child and family services national expenditures by about 50%. These results represent concrete progress achieved by our former Conservative government towards improving child and family services for indigenous children, both in quality of service and, maybe most importantly, the prevention-based outcomes.
Another key aspect of this bill is that it would affirm the rights and jurisdiction of indigenous peoples in relation to child and family services. It would allow indigenous governing bodies to pass their own laws, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in relation to child and family services, and these laws would have the same force as the federal law. On this issue, however, there are still some outstanding questions that need to be answered.
One such question regards situations in which more than one indigenous governing body claims jurisdiction over a particular child. Today there are many indigenous children who identify as being part of multiple indigenous backgrounds. It is not hard to imagine a child who may have a first nations father and a Métis mother, or vice versa. In these kinds of situations, it is conceivable that two different indigenous governing bodies may each claim full jurisdiction over the provision of child and family services in relation to that child.
While the bill addresses jurisdictional disputes between a province and an indigenous governing body, it does not properly address jurisdictional disputes that may arise between indigenous governing bodies that both have equally strong ties and connections to the indigenous child in question.
This jurisdictional question is one of the concerns that was directly raised in committee while we were studying Bill C-92. One of the committee's witnesses was Raven McCallum, a well-spoken young person who is a youth adviser on the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development Youth Advisory Council. She is of British and Haida descent on her mother's side, and of Métis descent on her father's side. In her testimony, while talking about Bill C-92, she stated:
I do not see any reference about how to approach situations when a child belongs to more than one nation.
She goes on to say:
I think it's something that is important to acknowledge. We need to know all aspects of our identity.
Time and time again, we heard in committee that indigenous identity is complex and multi-layered. However, this bill still has not adequately addressed these complexities as they relate to jurisdictional issues in the provision of child and family services for indigenous children.
We also want to make sure that this bill would not negatively impact the existing self-government agreements that exist between indigenous governing bodies and the provincial and federal levels of government in relation to child and family services. These kinds of agreements include the three which were recently concluded this past March in my province of Saskatchewan between the provincial government and the Saskatoon Tribal Council.
One of these agreements was a delegation agreement which re-established the Saskatoon Tribal Council's child and family services agency, which will provide services to the on-reserve communities covered by this governing body. Another agreement is the reconciliation partnership agreement, which strives to ensure that indigenous children maintain connections to their culture and communities. These sorts of agreements further the important principle of cultural continuity, which recognizes that one of the crucial interests of indigenous children is to live and grow within their unique cultural and linguistic communities.
As Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand noted about the agreements in committee, “all of this work is about prevention”. In committee, he stressed the importance of the work once again, stating, “Our opinion is we have to build partnerships and relationships, as we've done with the federal and provincial governments. To us, it's meaningful because it's building bridges. We have to work together.”
As we move forward in our consideration of Bill C-92, we need to study how this bill will impact agreement such as these, in order to be sure we are upholding the principles which are stated within the bill itself.
Delegation agreements, such as those made between the Province of Saskatchewan and the Saskatoon Tribal Council are incredibly important. They are about returning the jurisdiction of care for the indigenous child to the indigenous communities themselves, so that these children are no longer cut off and separated from their culture and heritage.
Cultural continuity is one of the key principles of this bill. It is clear from the testimony of many witnesses that agreements made between the provinces and indigenous governing bodies often play a large role toward ensuring that child and family services are provided in a way that ensures indigenous children maintain strong relationships to their culture and community.
Another issue that arose in committee was the discovery that some major stakeholders who would be immediately impacted by this legislation were not consulted. When Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs came to testify at our committee, he said that his governing body was not consulted at all. The AMC had already crafted its own legislation with respect to child and family services, which was uniquely tailored to the experiences of that governing body's work in the province of Manitoba.
Given that all the groundwork had already been laid, the grand chief told us that Bill C-92 was thrust upon the AMC. He said, “It was quite a surprise when Bill C-92 was presented to us. It was almost [like] a slap in the face, because we had invested so much of our time in bringing forward a solution that everybody could build upon.”
How could the Liberal government introduce a bill that brings such dramatic changes to indigenous child welfare without consulting one of the largest indigenous governing bodies in a province with one of the highest numbers of indigenous children in foster care?
I am running out of time. In general, we support the principles laid out in this bill, and we want this bill to progress. However, the Liberals have put this piece of legislation at the back of their list of priorities. As a result, the Liberal government has left us with hardly any time to peel back the onion and have a great conversation about this bill.