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Press Release

November 30, 2018 – House of Commons Foyer, Ottawa ON

Good morning. Every day in this country, on our watch, someone walks into a home or perhaps a hospital room where a First Nation or Inuit or Métis mother has given birth, and that baby toddler or child is taken away from their family. They are taken away for the most part on the basis of something that is euphemistically called neglect. But in truth, they are often taken for reasons of economic poverty, inadequate housing, unresolved health issues. This is our modern day variation on the legacy of residential schools. As a result of these practices that take place every day in this country, there are now tens of thousands of Indigenous children in the foster care system across the country.

In provinces like Manitoba where Dan Vandal is from there are more than 11,000?children in care; more than 10,000 of them are Indigenous. These are the most vulnerable children in our country and we need to listen to them. But above the noisy din of our day-to-day lives, the cries of these children are barely audible. Yet they are on a dangerous path. Children entangled in foster care are at high risk of homelessness, becoming missing persons, becoming incarcerated, developing problematic substance use. They are more likely to become victims of human trafficking, suicide or homicide.

A year ago, I called this state of affairs a humanitarian crisis, and it’s the truth. Last January, we held a national emergency meeting with my colleagues and our partners. We met here in Ottawa, and the federal government committed to six points of action, and it’s these points of action that we’re discussing today. They come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls to Action. Call to Action number?4 asks the federal government to put in place legislative measures regarding Indigenous children.

Because of this Call to Action, we put out a call for engagement. Our Department organized more than 165 engagement meetings with more than 2,000 participants. My partners also had their own process to discuss this decision with people. What we heard was a strong consensus to go forward with co-developed federal legislation on child and family services for Indigenous children. We will table this legislation in the House of Commons in early 2019.

The legislation that we are co-developing is going to do two things on the basis of what we heard over and over again all across this country. People asked for two things. They are that they would lay down a set of principles. Principles based on the Union Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, principles based on the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. The decisions about the future of children and the wellbeing of children should be based on the best interests of those children, should be based on the rights of those children and their families.

Rights like due process, recognizing that no one should walk into a hospital room and take a baby away without looking at every other possible way that that child can be kept safe. That there should be principles of non-discrimination. That children should not be apprehended from their family on the basis of economic poverty, on the basis of health issues that are untreated.

But the second thing that people asked for loudly and clearly was that this legislation should affirm the right to self-determination on child and family services. Rights that are laid down in international law, in our Constitution and in treaties. And this affirmation of self-determination opens a space for First Nations Inuit and Métis to exercise the jurisdiction that they rightfully have.

I say to Canadians today that they should not underestimate the importance of this legislation. It marks a turning point. For a century now, based on discriminatory policies of government, we have been taking children away from their families. It started with residential schools. It continued in the Sixties Scoop and still today children are being taken from their families. And this legislation marks a turning points to say, “No more.” No more scooping children, no more ripping apart families, no more lost children who don’t know their language, their culture, their lineage.

We are on a journey of reconciliation that requires the rebuilding of strong nations. That requires the building of self-reliant First Nation, Inuit and Métis governments. But we will not be successful in that goal without rebuilding the strong bonds of family. That is why we are here today for the families, for the children. Together, we can help these children find their way home. Merci beaucoup. Meegwetch.?Merci.

IBF5

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