By: Alessia Passafiume
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society says Canada is systematically failing to respond to Jordan’s Principle requests to fund health and social services for children first and figure out who should be paying later.
That includes delayed response times to requests for information or assistance in filing a claim, and in many cases extended waits to have claims approved while kids who need care have to wait.
The allegations are made in two affidavits sent to the Human Rights Tribunal as part of a non-compliance motion the society launched against the federal government for its handling of Jordan’s Principle.
That is a legal rule named after Jordan River Anderson of Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. Born in 1999 with multiple disabilities, Anderson died at five years old without ever leaving the hospital, after federal and provincial governments couldn’t decide who should pay for his at-home care.
The House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion to abide by the principle in 2007 but has been accused multiple times since of failing to live up to its spirit.
In 2017, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the government to make changes to comply with Jordan’s Principle, including through providing culturally-appropriate services and ensuring the child’s best interests are safeguarded.
The principle stipulates that when a child needs health, social or educational services they are to receive them from the government first approached, with questions about final jurisdiction worked out afterward.
Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the caring society, said in practice service claims under Jordan’s Principle are taking too long to be processed and requests for assistance from the federal government are taking far too long to get a response.
“At Jordan River Anderson’s memorial service, I promised his family that I would do everything I could to ensure that Jordan’s Principle was honoured so that no other child had to suffer as he did,” Blackstock wrote in her 57-page affidavit.
“Eighteen years later, I am still trying to keep that promise.”
Blackstock said they know the claims under Jordan’s Principle are piling up but Canada refuses to disclose the size of that backlog.
She said there are significant government delays in responding to Jordan’s Principle calls and in providing reimbursement for services, among other problems.
In some cases, delays approving service mean kids are waiting months to get the care they need.
For instance, Canada’s Jordan’s Principle call centre line is supposed to be available around the clock, but it can take hours to get a return call, if one comes at all.
Blackstock said out of 25 times staff members at the caring society called the line since January 2023, they were connected to a live agent only twice. When Blackstock was helping families with their calls, some of the issues were only resolved after she contacted the representatives via their non-public emails.
Urgent Jordan’s Principle requests are supposed to be processed within 24 hours. But urgent requests are taking up to one month to be reviewed, according to Independent First Nations, an advocacy body representing a dozen First Nations in Ontario and Quebec. Blackstock’s affidavit said nearly half of requests made by individuals from those First Nations in 2023-24 are still in review, along with 10 per cent of the files submitted in 2022-23.
The delays extend to the reimbursement of service providers, the Caring Society argued, with the Indigenous Services department missing its own promise to make those payments within 15 days. In 2022-23, the department processed only 50.7 per cent of payments within 15 business days, compared to 82.9 per cent in 2021-22.
A spokesperson for the minister of Indigenous services told The Canadian Press last week the government is undertaking a careful review of the Caring Society’s motion, but that it was too early to comment.
The tribunal is expected to hear the case in April or early May.
The affidavit from Blackstock comes just months after she helped secure a $43-billion child welfare settlement with the federal government for its handling of child welfare and Jordan’s Principle.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2024.