Bear Witness Day

By: The Hon. Brian Francis

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Hon. Brian Francis: Honourable senators, I rise today to draw your attention to Bear Witness Day, a national event created by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society that calls on all people of all ages and backgrounds to support the full implementation of Jordan’s Principle, a legal requirement that aims to ensure that First Nations children can access the products, services and supports they need when they need them.

It is named in memory of Jordan River Anderson, a boy from Norway House Cree Nation born with complex medical needs. He died at the age of five after staying unnecessarily in hospital for years while the provincial and federal governments argued over who should pay for his at-home care, which was only an issue because he was First Nations.

Held annually on May 10, Bear Witness Day marks an important date in the history of Jordan’s Principle. In 2016, nine years after a complaint was filed, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that chronic underfunding and the structure of child and family services on-reserve constituted systemic discrimination and ordered the federal government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle by May 10.

It took much longer for progress to be made. This April, a revised final settlement agreement was reached to compensate First Nations children and families harmed, including through the unnecessary separation of families and the denial of critical wellness and life-saving care. In addition, negotiations continue on the long-term reform final settlement agreement to prevent further discrimination.

While nothing can undo the harm caused, those developments represent a long and hard-fought measure of justice that was made possible by Jordan River Anderson and his family, along with the representatives’ plaintiffs, including Ashley Dawn Bach; Karen Osachoff; Melissa Walterson; Noah Buffalo-Jackson; Carolyn Buffalo; Richard Jackson; Xavier Moushoom; Jeremy Meawasige; Jonavon Meawasige; the late Maurina Beadle; Zacheus Trout and his two late children, Sanaye and Jacob; along with a coalition of leaders, activists and allies like Dr. Cindy Blackstock.

Colleagues, a lot more needs to change to ensure that Indigenous children grow up happy, healthy, proud and safe with their families and communities. We can and must take action.

Tomorrow, in collaboration with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Senators Audette, Klyne and I will mark Bear Witness Day. We hope you will join us to remember and honour the victims and survivors of Canada’s discrimination. Thank you. Wela’lin.

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