THUNDER BAY – Aboriginal Now – Changes to federal Indian Act that was amended in 2008 now bring the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Act into effect on First Nations. The changes to the legislation permit human rights complaints by Aboriginal people and First Nations organizations over issues on reserves.
Over 300 human rights complaints have been filed since the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended in 2008 to encompass matters under the Indian Act, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The Commission has released new statistics on the June 18th anniversary of this amendment to the legislation that has brought First Nations under the legislation.
“I’m encouraged by the extent to which people affected by the Indian Act, after over thirty years of virtual exclusion, are seeing the Canadian Human Rights Act as a potential catalyst for improving life on reserves,” according to Acting Chief Commissioner David Langtry.
The 2008 amendment to the Act was immediately applicable to the federal government; however, a three-year transition period gave First Nations governments time to prepare for their new obligations and accountability. That transition ended a year ago today.
The Commission has since received 162 complaints against First Nations governments. Many of these cases involve issues such as on-reserve housing and eligibility to vote in Band council elections.
Of the 162 complaints against First Nations governments:
- 47 complaints are undergoing examination at the Commission.
- 38 complaints are in the early stages of the Commission’s process.
- 77 complaints have been closed.
Aboriginal people and First Nations groups have filed a total of 150 complaints against the federal government since 2008. In many of these cases, complainants allege that federal funding for services delivered on-reserve is inequitable when compared to provincial and territorial funding for the same services off-reserve.
Of the 150 complaints against the federal government:
- 3 complaints are in the early stages of the Commission’s process.
- 62 complaints are under examination at the Commission.
- 13 complaints have been referred by the Commission to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication.
- 72 complaints have been closed.
“These complaints deal with alleged disparities in federal funding for services such as education, policing and child welfare,” Langtry said. “The issues raised in virtually all the complaints received by the Commission deal with complex and evolving areas of law and many could set precedents.”
One important example is a case in which the First Nations Child and Family Services Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations allege that disparities in funding for child welfare services on reserves constitute discrimination. This case was referred back to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by the Federal Court. The Attorney General is appealing the Federal Court’s ruling.
The Attorney General has argued that federal funding of services on reserves is outside the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Commission is challenging this interpretation. If accepted, it would set a precedent that could allow federal funding for services to First Nations communities to be exempt from human rights law.
The Commission has referred three separate cases involving this issue to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal:
- Special Education – The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation filed a human rights complaint alleging inadequate special education services in First Nations communities. The case focuses on two First Nations children, both with special needs.
The Commission recently referred the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Key issues include whether the federal government provides sufficient funding to allow First Nations children living on-reserve to
receive special education comparable to that provided by the province off-reserve, and if not, does that failure violate Canadian human rights law.
- Police Services – The Mushkegowuk Council and several First Nations communities filed a complaint regarding the provision of police services and facilities. The complaint alleges that these services and facilities are suffering as a result of insufficient federal funding. It is alleged in the complaint that a cramped, unheated shack, without plumbing, serves as the temporary jail for people taken into temporary custody.
The complaint reports slow response times to domestic violence calls and property crime calls. It alleges that there is an inadequate number of officers to sufficiently cover the region. As a result, the safety of adults and children is at risk.
- Child Welfare The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint regarding First Nations child welfare organizations receiving less funding than those that serve children off-reserve.
The Commission referred the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2009. But the Tribunal dismissed the case, accepting the Attorney General’s argument that federal and provincial funding levels could not
On April 18, 2012 the Federal Court overturned the Tribunal’s decision to dismiss the case, sending it back to the Tribunal for adjudication.