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James Cowan

The Hon. James  Cowan, Q.C., B.A., LL.B., LL.M., LL.D. Senator James Cowan has greatly influenced the educational and legal communities of Nova Scotia. He was appointed to the Senate on March 24, 2005 by the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.

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Aboriginal Child Welfare System

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Statement made on 05 October 2011 by Senator Sharon Carstairs (retired)

Hon. Sharon Carstairs:

Honourable senators, last spring I brought to the attention of this place the number of Aboriginal children in care in my province. I subsequently have learned that there are now more Aboriginal children in care throughout this country than the number of children who in total attended residential schools. This should cause all of us to look at this matter very carefully.

Perhaps a good place to start would be to look at the June 9, 2011 report of the Auditor General and to examine the concerns that she raised with respect to Aboriginal children on reserves. Let me quote directly from that report. She said:

It is clear that living conditions are poorer on First Nations reserves than elsewhere in Canada.

She said:

In our view, many of the problems facing First Nations go deeper than the existing programs' lack of efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that structural impediments severely limit the delivery of public services to First Nations communities and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves. We have identified four such impediments:

  • lack of clarity about service levels,
     
  • lack of a legislative base,
     
  • lack of an appropriate funding mechanism, and
     
  • lack of organizations to support local service delivery.

She went on to say that the reason for lack of clarity about service levels was because the federal government has not clearly defined the type and level of services it supports.

As to a lack of legislative base, the Auditor General states that the federal government has often developed programs without establishing a legislative or regulatory framework for them.

As to a lack of an appropriate funding mechanism, the Auditor General has stated that there is uncertainty about funding levels.

As to lack of organization to support local service delivery, she stated there were few organizations to support service delivery within First Nations communities.

The Auditor General went into more details with respect to child and family services. For example, she restated what had been stated earlier, in 2008: that First Nations children were eight times more likely to be removed from their homes than other Canadian children. She stated that First Nations children were the most vulnerable members of society, that 5 per cent of all children were in care, and noted that had there had been no notable improvement in the number of First Nations children in care since 2008. She stated that in the 2008 audit, INAC was asked to define its expectations for culturally appropriate services, but she noted that INAC has still failed to deliver and to define comparability.

She also stated that the department has not conducted a review of all social services available in the provinces to see even whether they are the same as to what is available to children on reserves. She found that the progress in child and family services was unsatisfactory.

As with my earlier inquiry, I implore our Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples to examine this issue.

Honourable senators, many of us frequently pay lip service to the statement that children are our most precious resource. Aboriginal children are Canadian children. I believe they, too, must be valued, and yet it would appear that they are significantly devalued in our society. They have the poorest health and educational outcomes. They have the highest suicide rate. They have less money spent, by 20 per cent, on their welfare when they are taken into care.

Honourable senators, it is imperative that this institution take the initiative and study the means by which all children in Canada have equal value.

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