• Aboriginal child welfare case will be heard, court of appeal rules
Mar 14, 2013

The federal court of appeal Monday dismissed an appeal by Ottawa, and upheld the federal court's earlier decision that the case could proceed before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

At issue is a six-year-old human rights complaint by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which says Ottawa has for years spent less on child welfare for kids living on reserves than the provinces spend for children who live off reserves. The society argued the funding gap has left on-reserve kids with less programming and less quality services, and often means kids on reserves are taken into care faster and more often than their off-reserve counterparts.

In 2008 the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered the complaint be heard by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The federal government challenged the tribunal's jurisdiction in court but lost their initial argument and the appeal. In 2011, the federal government successfully convinced the CHRT chair to dismiss the complaint.

In her decision, CHRT chairwoman Shirish Chotalia said the human rights act allows complaints only based on services provided differently by the same level of government, and since Ottawa did not fund any children but those living on reserves, it would be unfair to compare their services to those provided by the provinces.

She likened it to an employee at one company complaining an employee at another company receives better treatment.

The Caring Society went to court to challenge the tribunal's decision and won, when the judge agreed it was unreasonable to suggest you couldn't compare the federal government's offerings to children to what the provinces offered.

The federal court of appeal upheld that decision Monday.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal had already begun hearings in the matter and will now continue starting April 2 in Ottawa.