Victory for First Nations children

Posted on Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Two Law Faculty members played an important role in the significant January 26 victory, in which the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in favour of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada. Professor Sébastien Grammond, of the Civil Law Section, and Anne Levesque, Director of the Common Law Section’s Law Practice Program, were part of the legal team that offered pro bono representation to the Caring Society in a human rights complaint that was lodged in 2007.

The Caring Society filed a human rights complaint regarding the underfunding of child welfare services provided to  First Nations communities. It has been shown that the funding provided by the federal government for these services was between 22% and 34% lower than the average funding provided by the provinces for services to non-First Nations children. In a precedent setting decision, the Tribunal found that this was discriminatory and that a reform of the federal child welfare program was required. In addition, the Tribunal found that the federal child welfare funding formulas create incentives for taking  First Nations into care. This is one of the reasons why First Nations children area  currently at 12 times likely tobe taking into care than  non-First Nations childlen.

Anne Levesque, counsel of record on the case since 2009, helped develop the case strategy and the legal arguments concerning discrimination and the appropriate remedy. "The Tribunal has adopted a broad definition of equality. This decision sets an important new precedent for human rights in Canada."  For his part, Professor Sébastien Grammond presented the constitutional law and indigenous law arguments at the final hearings in October 2014. He also coordinated, with the other team members, the preparation of the written arguments that the Society submitted to the Tribunal, which was more than 200 pages in length. Professor Grammond welcomed the decision of the Tribunal: "This is the first time that the right to equality has been used to advance the claims of First Nations Peoples. The Tribunal’s decision has disproven the myth that First Nations Peoples receive more than their fair share. The message is clear: it's totally the opposite, they receive fewer services than other citizens."

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the Caring Society, expressed her thanks to the team that included Ms. Anne Levesque and Professor Sébastien Grammond, "They represented the children and the Caring Society with a big heart, taking time away from their families and working evenings, weekends and holidays."

Professor Sébastien Grammond appears before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, accompanied by Anne Levesque, under the gaze of the "Spirit Bear," who symbolizes the indigenous children in whose name this complaint was brought.

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