Bear Witness Day

By: The Hon. Brian Francis

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Hon. Brian Francis: Honourable senators, I rise again this year to mark Bear Witness Day. Every year on May 10, we honour the life and legacy of Jordan River Anderson from Norway House Cree Nation. Born with complex medical needs, Jordan died in 2005 at the age of 5 after spending more than two years unnecessarily in hospital while the provincial and federal governments argued over who should pay for his at-home care. These services would have been available to other children in Canada, but Jordan was denied them simply because he was a First Nations child.

Named in his memory, Jordan’s Principle is a legal rule to ensure that First Nations children have equitable access to products, services and supports they need, when they need them.

Despite unanimous endorsement by the other chamber in 2007, Jordan’s Principle has yet to be fully implemented in Canada. In 2016, almost a decade after the complaint was first filed, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the federal government to be racially discriminating against 165,000-plus First Nations children and their families in the provision of child and family services and failing to properly implement Jordan’s Principle. May 10 is a significant date because it was the deadline given to the federal government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle.

Thanks to the tribunal’s orders, more than 4.58 million products, services and supports have been approved for First Nations children through Jordan’s Principle. However, the tribunal has also needed to issue more than 25 procedural and non-compliance orders since 2016. At the end of last year, yet another non-compliance motion was brought against Canada due to failures to determine requests — particularly urgent ones — within the tribunal-ordered timelines, significant backlogs, reimbursement delays, communication issues with requesters, concerns about accountability and quality control issues. The hearing will happen later this summer.

After more than 16 years of legal battles, it is simply disgraceful that Canada has not taken full measures to uphold the spirit and intent of Jordan’s Principle to ensure that First Nations children can access the products, services and supports they need.

With the goal of continuing to raise awareness and demand urgent and ongoing action, I plan to introduce a motion, in collaboration with the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society, recognizing May 10 as Bear Witness Day. I am hopeful that it will be unanimously adopted by this chamber. Thank you, wela’lin.

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