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The OHRC responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call for action on Indigenous children in the child welfare system

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December 16, 2015

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Today, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) calls to action, and to similar calls from racialized communities, by committing to address the goal of preventing and reducing the overrepresentation of Indigenous and racialized children and youth in the child welfare system.

TRC calls for action

The TRC’s final report, released yesterday, catalogues in painstaking detail the cultural genocide perpetrated over a century against Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The residential school legacy continues to have a devastating intergenerational impact on Indigenous peoples – including the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care and the large numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

One of the TRC’s first calls to action is for all governments in Canada to commit to reducing the number of Indigenous children and youth in the child welfare system. It calls on governments to prepare and publish annual reports on the number of Aboriginal children (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) in care, compared with non-Aboriginal children, the reasons for apprehension, the total spending on preventive and care services by child-welfare agencies, and the effectiveness of various interventions.

The OHRC will act

The OHRC will use its mandate to examine the overrepresentation of Indigenous and racialized children and youth in Ontario’s child welfare system.

As a first step, we will write to children’s aid societies across the province to learn what data and data collection practices they use to monitor Indigenous and racialized children, youth and their families’ first contact with the child welfare system, progress through it and transition out.

Governments also have a responsibility to monitor, measure and report on the human rights situation of disadvantaged groups in the child welfare system, including Indigenous and racialized communities. We made a similar recommendation in our submission to Ontario’s review of the Child and Family Services Act

The Ontario government’s performance indicators – which focus on safety, permanency and well-being of children and youth in Ontario’s child welfare system – need to be disaggregated for Indigenous and racialized communities. The Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services has said she is receptive to collecting race-based data. The OHRC calls on the Ministry to help all children’s aid societies collect and report this information with the goal of preventing and reducing the overrepresentation of Indigenous and racialized children in care.

Indicators are also necessary to measure the unique circumstances and needs of Indigenous and racialized communities, including access to adequate income and housing, and to cultural, spiritual and linguistic supports.

The OHRC will reach out to other organizations including the Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aids Societies. We will also ask Indigenous and racialized community-based organizations and other groups for their involvement and advice.

Cooperating across jurisdictions

The TRC calls for cooperation and coordination between all levels of government and civil society to implement its calls to action, and for government to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as the framework for reconciliation.

By all measures, Indigenous peoples in Canada face profound inequality in accessing adequate income, housing, education, employment, health and social services, justice and safety, and other rights guaranteed to all Canadians under our international statutory human rights obligations.

UNDRIP brings these rights and obligations together in one document, which Canada signed in 2010. The TRC has made UNDRIP a central part of its calls to action, and the OHRC will do the same.

We are pleased to see governments in Canada recognizing the need to renew the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous communities, work in partnership across jurisdictions, and use UNDRIP to guide this work. This cooperation will be especially important to the federal government’s inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The OHRC has offered to assist with the inquiry and is looking at ways to use its mandate to support other TRC calls to action. We will continue our outreach to engage Indigenous communities in our work.

The OHRC will also work across jurisdictions as a member of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA). We supported CASHRA’s statement released yesterday that welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with all involved in implementing the TRC’s calls to action. Human rights commissions can play a role in moving from discussion to action across Canada.

Renu Mandhane
Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission