Canada's Original Think Tank

Third reading of Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, as amended

Third reading of Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, as amended

Third reading of Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, as amended

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to third reading of Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, as amended.

I wasn’t planning to speak, but, listening to the speakers this morning, I feel that I must get up to say a few words.

First of all, we’ve talked a lot about the concerns with respect to Manitoba. The committee tried to propose some suggestions on how to meet those concerns. Unfortunately, the amendment that was brought forth was, I think, deemed inadmissible. We heard that Manitoba wanted to opt out, but we also heard that this bill won’t apply to them unless they opt in. They don’t have to be part of this. Senator Sinclair indicated that their memorandum of understanding will not necessarily be overridden by Bill C-92.

I’m going to get to Saskatchewan and Alberta in a few moments. Certainly in Saskatchewan there is great support for this bill. People in Saskatchewan want it to move forward.

Senator McCallum talked about the cash cow. This is the elephant in the room. The provinces and territories don’t want to give up the child welfare system because they make money on it. They take an administrative cut. They get more funding to administer child welfare than the bands get, so they don’t want to give that up. The reason this bill is so late in the game, why we’re getting it so late, is the federal government had an obligation to speak to the provinces and territories to try to get them to the table and work out an arrangement that the provinces would accept.

That took time, because there were always these rumours we were going to get it on such-and-such a date, and then the ministers met with the provincial ministers, and nothing happened. That relationship is critical to understanding why the bill came late and why some provinces want to maintain that system.

I agree entirely with Senator Sinclair when he says the status quo is simply unacceptable. When we look at Saskatchewan and some of the situations that happen when Indigenous children are placed in non-Indigenous homes, there are some horror stories. There may be horror stories the other way around too. But as the rights holders, as citizens of this country, Indigenous people should be allowed to have control over their own families. It’s a vestige of colonialism that has been perpetrated through legislation.

It is a colonial system. We should be giving the control over what happens to Indigenous children back to Indigenous families. The bill acknowledges that, because we were able to amend it to put in that the benefit to the child must include their connection to their culture and community. When we talk about the funding for child and family services, we have to include things like the cultural and spiritual benefits to the child, whereas the old system was just kind of like a monetary system: We’re going to take your child away from you because we don’t think your home is big enough; you don’t have a separate bedroom or bed for this child; we’ll take it away. Then that child suffers. So the status quo is unacceptable.

There’s been disagreement about funding, but from what we heard, the funding mechanism in the original bill was amended in the House of Commons so that they put in phrases that take into account the need for substantive equality. It’s not a commitment that would be in the budget. We cannot add that to a bill because, as the Senate, our hands are tied. Those will be worked out by the individual groups across the country as the First Nations governments negotiate their contribution agreements with the federal government. They will be able to then negotiate the money that they believe they require.

I want to read into the record what the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations has said with regard to this bill. You will recall that Vice Chief David Pratt appeared before the committee and indicated that in Saskatchewan all of the First Nations are strongly in support of this bill. They’re ready to move forward. It was the exact opposite of Manitoba. They want to get the control away from the provincial government. They’re ready to move forward. They’re excited. They’re champing at the bit. They want to go.

This is from Vice Chief Pratt:

The Saskatchewan regional chiefs, by way of chiefs assembly resolution, fully support Bill C-92 in achieving what thousands and thousands of us First Nations across this country have been advocating for, full jurisdiction and taking care of our children within our own care systems based on our language and culture. The provinces are failing our children. In the provinces’ care, children are either dying, going to jail or falling victim to many addictions. This has got to change. With the passing of Bill C-92, we encourage and respectfully ask all those to support it as they will help to save many children’s lives by supporting Bill C-92. That is what many people this morning should be telling themselves: Let’s save the lives of those children currently in the provinces’ child welfare, and support Bill C-92.

The chiefs in assembly passed a resolution. I don’t think it’s necessary to read it into the record. That was passed on November 28, 2018, six, seven or eight months ago.

Saskatchewan is ready to go. I think that was brought up by the sponsor, Patti LaBoucane-Benson. I think you mentioned that in your speech.

You talked about Cindy Blackstock, Senator Pate. But we also had as a witness Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and we know she was a B.C. child and family advocate for 10 years or so, an extremely talented, passionate, highly educated great advocate for children’s well-being. She spoke strongly in support of this bill. I wish I had the transcript in front of me. If you watch what she said, she was saying this is a major step forward for First Nations because it will allow First Nations to get out of section 88 of the Indian Act, which allows the provinces to control what’s happening in child welfare. By entering into Bill C-92, by opting in, they can get away from that control. They can take charge of their own child welfare system and they can get away from the status quo.

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I recognize Manitoba has a problem, but if Saskatchewan really wants to go forward then, as my friend and colleague here said, probably most of the other communities across Canada are ready to go. We cannot hold this up because of the concerns of the Manitoba chiefs.

That was all I wanted to say. I fully support this measure. I encourage all people here to vote in support of this bill. Although it may not be perfect, it still is a big step forward. Getting out from the Indian Act, section 88, is huge. You cannot do that unless you go into this or you have self-government, and we know how long that takes. This is a step toward control. As Vice-Chief Pratt said, the chiefs of Saskatchewan are ready to move ahead on child welfare, on education. This is their first step. It’s a good way to move toward self-government without actually having to negotiate and spend millions of dollars and decades to get to self-government. Thank you. Please support it.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Pratte, question?

Hon. André Pratte: Would the honourable senator take a question? Thank you for this. I will vote in favour of the bill because I believe the principles expressed in the bill are extremely important and crucial. I’m a little bit worried that some provinces that are, let’s say, more sensitive to the protection of their jurisdiction, how they will react to the affirmation of national principles in this legislation.

How do you foresee the discussions and negotiations for coordination agreements between the federal government and the provincial governments considering that, in my understanding, there’s no enforceability in this act; is that right? If there’s no agreement, there’s just no agreement.

Senator Dyck: Within the bill, there’s a one-year time period for the provinces and the groups to come to an agreement. No doubt, there are cases where that won’t happen. Certainly in Manitoba their feeling was that’s never going to happen; they can’t get the province to the table.

Saskatchewan is probably in a very similar position. The ministry in Saskatchewan is really not supportive of giving up control to First Nations. Saskatchewan said, “Okay, we will do what we have to do and then, after the one-year period, if agreement can’t be reached, then the Indigenous law prevails.” Then the Indigenous people take control away from the province.

After that one-year period, they have control. That’s a reasonable time period, one year. Right now, the only way they can get control is through some other much more complicated self-governing agreement. In some cases, the territories might come under land claims agreements. This is a powerful step forward, as Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said.