Jordan's Principle and Standing Up for Those Who Can't
Recently, I attended a conference full of amazing Indigenous women leaders in Newfoundland. Just being a part of their event was a humbling experience for me. Attending gatherings of strong Indigenous women like this always reminds me of how little I know and how much I have to learn. Although I had travelled to Newfoundland feeling under the weather and a little stressed out from my recent workload, when I arrived in that room, I could literally feel the energy of these women surrounding me.
I was awed by their dedication to their community despite their personal struggles; their supportive words to one another, despite their own lack of support from others; and their warmth and welcoming to me as a non-Islander, despite their personal histories of trauma and loss. They reminded me that despite our differences, we have to keep our eye on the ball, so to speak, and focus on our communities. There are a good number of people who need our help right now and they don't have the same capacity as we do to advocate on their own behalf. So, when one of the ladies asked me what Jordan's principle was, I agreed to blog about it so that we'd all know what it was and how we can all put pressure on federal and provincial governments to finally implement it.
Jordan River Anderson was a small boy who was a member of the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. He was born with some serious health issues and required extensive hospital care. When he was two years old, his doctors determined that he was well enough to go home so long as his house was properly outfitted for his needs and he had care specific to his needs.
It was at this point that the federal and provincial government re-engaged in their decades old debate over who should pay for the health costs associated with caring for little Jordan. Canada argued that health care was provincial jurisdiction and the province argued that status Indians living on reserve were federal jurisdiction. Because neither government would agree to pay for Jordan's health care costs to live at home with his family, this little boy was forced to stay in the hospital for the next two and half years until he passed away. His family never got to take him home.
For anyone who does not understand what exactly the jurisdictional issue is, here is a mini-overview. Our Constitution Act, 1867 sets out the specific areas of power that the federal and provincial governments will have in Canada. Basically, what this means is that each government has complete power or jurisdiction within their specific areas. These specific areas of jurisdiction are set out in section 91 (for the federal government) and section 92 (for the provincial governments). This means that no government can interfere in the jurisdiction of another. Here is a link to the Constitution Act, 1867:
So, how does this all apply to Jordan's principle? Well, under section 91(24) the federal government has jurisdiction (sometimes referred to as responsibility) over "Indians and lands reserved for the Indians". This is one of the reasons why Canada deals directly with First Nations.
On the other hand, the provinces have jurisdiction over health of residents in the province by virtue of section 92(7). So, the jurisdictional dispute arises when Canada argues that it should not pay for the health costs of status Indians because health is the responsibility of the province and the province argues that it should not pay for the health costs of status Indians that live on reserve because that is federal jurisdiction. The federal and provincial governments have been locked in this stalemate for decades on health and other similar issues which negatively impacts vital services to First Nations.
So, back to Jordan's principle. Jordan's family explains that had Jordan been a non-Indian living in downtown Winnipeg, the provincial government would have paid for his health care costs. They feel that the only reason why their son was left to die in the hospital was because he was an Indian. Whether or not this is the case (and it certainly appears to be so), the fact that the family feels this way mandates that we consider their situation carefully. In fact, many politicians did consider the issue carefully and were so horrified by this state of affairs for status Indians living on reserve that NDP MP Jean Crowder made a motion in the House of Commons to adopt what she called "Jordan's Principle" which is a "child first" principle that would require that no First Nations child ever be denied health or other vital social services again.
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society explains that the principle "calls on the government of first contact to pay for services for the child and then seek reimbursement later so the child does not get tragically caught in the middle of government red tape. Jordan’s Principle applies to ALL government services and must be adopted, and fully implemented by the Government of Canada and all provinces and territories."
This is the link to their website which provides a great deal more information about the issue:
On December 12, 2007, by Private Member's Motion 296 NDP MP Jean Crowder received unanimous support for the following principle: "in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately adopt a child-first principle, based on Jordan's Principle, to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children". This means that NDP, Liberal AND Conservative MPs all supported the principle. Over three years have passed since the adoption of this principle and the federal and provincial governments have been slow to actually implement it. Both the Liberals and NDP have been calling on the federal government to implement the principle, but the conservatives continue to stall.
The Assembly of First Nations as well as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and others have also called on the federal and provincial governments to implement the principle. Recently, National Chief of the AFN, Shawn Atleo had this to say:
"First Nation children are too often denied health services and other services available to other children in Canada... Jordan's Principle reminds us that no child should be denied health or medical services because of jurisdictional disputes between federal and provincial/territorial governments. It has now been six years since the tragic death of Jordan Anderson, and we continue to call on all governments to work with First Nations to ensure the full and proper implementation of Jordan's Principle, including support for the Declaration on Action for the Implementation of Jordan's Principle as put forth by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. We can all agree that every child deserves respect, care and equitable treatment and First Nations children must not be treated differently."
See the following link for more information from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN):
Similarly, while some provinces have taken steps to implement the principle, some have not. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) explains on their website that: "The federal government is at various stages of discussion on Jordan's Principle with the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland and British Columbia." So, in other words, the majority of governments in Canada have not yet implemented Jordan's Principle.
This link will take you to INAC's website:
The issue have received a good deal of media attention lately, but sadly, very little action on the federal government's part. What follows are some links to recent media stories on the issue:
Chiefs draw attention to lack of action on Jordan's Principle:
Jordan's Principle, governments' paralysis
What follows here are links to several videos which focused on Jordan's Principle:
APTN's In Focus - Jordan's Principle (click video on upper right hand side)
The most recent news coverage of this issue was on APTN National News during their weekly political panel with federal MPs and Senators. This video highlights the very problem that Jordan's principle was meant to address - arguing over jurisdiction:
For those who can't access the video, here is a brief overview of the panel:
Interviewed in this panel was conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau and NDP MP Jean Crowder. Crowder explained that despite the fact that the principle was passed unanimously in the House of Commons by all political parties, the conservative government has failed to take a leadership role in implementing it. While Manitoba has implemented the principle, it has done so in a narrow way. Saskatchewan only has an interim agreement which is also narrow. British Columbia (BC) does not have an agreement yet and has criticized the conservative government for taking far too narrow an approach to implementation.
Crowder raised some very key points:
(1) First Nations children do NOT receive the same standard of health care as Canadians;
(2) First Nations parents are forced to surrender their children to provincial foster care if they can't access the health funds they need; and
(3) This situation is a violation of their basic human rights.
Brazeau's response was that although these are sad stories, this amounts to a jurisdictional issue and that health care is "provincial jurisdiction".
Crowder explained that in fact, Jordan's families and other families at Norway House Cree Nation live ON reserve and are "clearly" federal jurisdiction. But more importantly, Jordan's principle says to put the children first and fight about the money later.
When asked why Canada can't foot the bill and work out the details later, Brazeau completely dodges the issue and claims that there is partisan politics being played here. He goes on to say that while they want to put the needs of the child first, that health care is provincial jurisdiction. Then in a bizarre twist, Brazeau cautioned all Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to not "become victims of our own health care system".
I am not sure anyone quite knows what Brazeau was talking about, but Crowder clarified that there is no partisan politics involved here because ALL political parties unanimously supported Jordan's principle in the House of Commons, including the conservatives.
Crowder's main point was that if there was political will on the part of the federal and provincial governments to actually put children before politics, then none of them would be having the discussion. I think she makes a good point given the fact that the motion was passed back in 2007.
Brazeau turned the discussion back to jurisdiction and said that Crowder should be directing her concerns back to the provinces and not the federal government. I almost could not believe what I was hearing. It is as if Brazeau has no understanding of what Jordan's principle says or means. The whole purpose of the principle was to avoid the argument over who has jurisdiction and make it a priority to provide health care to First Nations children.
Crowder was asked why the provinces seem to be narrowing down the scope of Jordan's principle from one that includes all services to one which only covers health care. She explained that in BC, it is the federal government that has narrowed the principle to include only those children with complex medical needs. Similarly, First Nations in Manitoba are not happy with how the federal government has narrowed the definition.
If you watch the video a couple of times, like I did, I couldn't help but get the feeling there were two separate conversations happening: one by Crowder that focused on implementing Jordan's principle, and one by Brazeau which defaulted to the old jurisdictional arguments that this principle was meant to address.
At the end of the day, we all have a responsibility to stand up for those children who can't stand up for themselves. Parents with sick children are so focused on caring for their children that we cannot expect them to shoulder this burden alone. Whether or not you have kids, the caring and protection of our children is vital to not only the health of those children, but the health and well-being of their families, communities and Nations.
I would ask that all my readers write to all the MPs and demand that they put their money where there mouth is and MAKE CHILDREN FIRST!!! You don't have to write a long letter, it can be as as simple as an email asking that all governments implement Jordan's principle right away.
Here are the e-mail addresses:
To contact Liberal MPs - LIBMEM@parl.gc.ca
To contact Bloc MPs - BQMEM@parl.gc.ca
To contact Conservative MPs - CPCMEM@parl.gc.ca
To contact NDP MPs - NDPMEM@parl.gc.ca
Please take five minutes and send an e-mail to the federal government and tell them we have waited long enough for health care for our children. Then, if you have another five minutes, write to your provincial or territorial MP as well.