First Nations Child Welfare Services

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I have a question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

We learned last night that the Department of Justice, acting on behalf of Aboriginal Affairs, spent $3.1 million over the past five years to prevent First Nations child welfare cases from going before the courts. Honourable senators, Ottawa — meaning the Harper government — is being accused of funding First Nations child welfare services at a rate 22 per cent below that of the provinces. The Federal Court disagreed with the government’s arguments and has ordered a full hearing.

Honourable senators, why was $3.1 million of taxpayer money wasted in an effort to avoid providing young Aboriginal Canadians with the services they deserve?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, this matter was before the courts. I will have to get more detail for the honourable senator.

We have invested a considerable amount of money in the betterment of our Aboriginal communities, including the women and children. I will seek to get more clarity for the honourable senator.

Senator Munson: I thank the leader for that. I hope she can do that for me.

The story has garnered a wee bit of media. The spokesperson of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Cindy Blackstock, the society’s executive director, said that they spent that $3.1 million trying to avoid this hearing on the truth. She also said:

That really raises the question of what they’re trying to hide. All we’ve wanted from the get-go is a factual hearing on whether they’re discriminating or not.

Can you answer her concerns?

Senator LeBreton: All I can say, honourable senators, is that we continue to work in partnership with the First Nations to ensure children and families have the support they need. I will not comment specifically on the views of one individual reported in the media. All I can say is that I will provide the honourable senator with information, as I promised to do in answer to his first question, on the details of this particular matter.

Senator Munson: Speaking of children, last week I asked the leader about our obligations as a country under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She has heard about the UN’s official review, and it is pretty devastating where Canada is lacking.

During that time, I also asked about a children’s commissioner, and the leader referred me to a delayed answer. The answer stated:

Most provinces have already established independent children’s commissioners, advocates or ombudspersons. The Government of Canada places a high value on their work.

The response in the delayed answer, which took months, went as follows:

The Government of Canada endeavours to strengthen coordination and monitoring of children’s rights through interdepartmental and intergovernmental initiatives . . .

When I listen to the delayed answer, it seems to me that the statements support the creation of a national children’s commissioner. There are all these different working groups, and there is no coordination or national feel to it. We already have an interdepartmental working group on children’s rights, so is it not sensible to have one individual, a children’s commissioner, appointed to oversee this group to ensure we have accountability and leadership for the protection of Canada’s children and, at the very minimum, the protection of Canada’s Aboriginal children?

Senator LeBreton: I did answer the question about the commissioner last week. My answer, as I reported, has not changed.

As I indicated, I will provide the honourable senator with a written response to his other questions.